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  • Michele Thomas

Purple Heart Day

August 7th

First, let me admit that I did not know about Purple Heart Day. And second, I am ashamed that I did not know about it. As I researched and delved deeper, I felt that it was only fitting to write about it.

In case you don’t know, the purple heart is the United State military medal for “Being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces”.

Although its original name was created by George Washington as the “Badge of Military Merit”, the name Purple Heart is more fitting. It signifies the sacrifice of the person being nominated to receive it. The actual Purple Heart Day was recently established in 2014. I found this interesting and it led me to research even deeper. I wanted to know What states actually observe this day? Who established it? Why is it not more widely known? How many purple hearts have been given out?

My thirst for knowledge led me down a rabbit hole that left me, at best, sad. Not that there was so much information but, disheartened at the information I did find. There have been an estimated 1.8 million Purple Hearts bestowed on recipients. Out of that number only 500 have been women and 88 have been people of color. These Purple Hearts were given out since its ‘re-establishment in 1932 (World War II era for anyone who is not good at timelines).

The first African American to receive the Purple Heart was Army Sgt. William H. Carney. “…who earned the honor for protecting one of the United States’ greatest symbols during the Civil War – The American Flag” (defence.gov).

The first woman to receive a Purple heart was Cordelia “Betty” Cook. “Cordelia “Betty” Cook was the first woman to receive both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. In 1943, Cook, who served as a combat nurse during World War II, sustained shrapnel wounds while working at a field hospital on the Italian front. Despite her injuries, Cook continued to work and was later commended with both awards for her heroic actions”. (USO)

My desire to do further research disappeared after I read that there have been 1.8 million Purple Hearts given out but only 500 have been women and 88 have been black. Yes, I am repeating myself; primarily because I am a woman and I identify as a person of color. My heart broke a little as I tried to comprehend such small numbers compared with such a huge number awarded. I mean seriously? My mind whirled and I sat here for a bit.

However, as I continued to dwell, I stopped myself. I took a deep breath and said an internal “thank you”. A thank you to the people who deserved a Purple Heart but did not get one because of their sex or color of their skin. BUT I also said a thank you to those who did receive the Purple Heart. Regardless of sex, race, origin people willingly put themselves in harm’s way so I could sit here and write this.

In my opinion, It should be recognized, because quite frankly our military does not receive enough recognition for the work they do.

And just in case you were wondering as I totally was, more recent and famous recipients include: John F. Kennedy (only President to receive this award), Colin Powell, and John McCain to name a few.

Heroes come in every color, sex, and origin. Thank you for your service and sacrifice and thank you to your families who served with you.


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