The Purple Heart is the American military’s oldest award dating back to the Revolutionary War. George Washington himself designed it, however, it was called the Badge of Military Merit. The badge was presented only a few times and the award went dormant until the 1900s. Gen. Douglas MacArthur eventually revived the award and created what we know today as the Purple Heart. He is also one of the first Purple Heart recipients.
The Purple Heart is one of those military awards that most military members would be proud to receive, however, it isn’t an award anyone in uniform necessarily wants, because to receive it, an individual must be wounded or killed.
Most in the ranks consider themselves lucky if they become one of the millions of Purple Heart recipients that have been presented the medal and survived, but there are a handful of men who have been wounded in battle so many times, that they are well-known within the military culture as some of the toughest men to have ever worn the uniform.
In all, there is only one of these Purple Heart recipients that stands out with the most awards of the Purple Heart medal. The other seven Purple Heart recipients are tied with eight awards each.
1. Staff Sgt. Albert L. Ireland
U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Albert Ireland is the U.S. service member awarded the most Purple Hearts not just in the Marine Corps, but in all U.S. military branches. Having served in World War II and later in the Korean War, Ireland was wounded in action nine times.
He is likely the most famous of Purple Heart recipients having served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. There, while serving as a machine gunner, he was wounded in combat five times. After WWII, he remained in the Marine Corps Reserve and was called back to service for the Korean War. Initially, regulations prevented him from serving in the war since he had been wounded more than twice, but Ireland applied for a waiver and received it.
He fought in Korea and went on to receive four more Purple Heart medals. His final injuries forced him out of military service. He went on to serve as a firefighter and died in 1997.
2. Lt. Col. Richard J. Buck
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Richard Buck was freshly graduated from West Point when he shipped to Korea in 1951. In the Korean War, Buck was wounded four times, earning four Purple Heart medals. He also earned the Combat Infantry Badge, a Silver Star for distinguished gallantry in action and three Bronze Star medals for distinguished heroism against an enemy.
However, like many on this list of Purple Heart recipients, he was not done. After the Korean War, Buck earned a graduate degree at Yale, bounced around in some high-level assignments and eventually found himself joining Special Forces. He then headed to Vietnam.
While in Vietnam, Buck was wounded four more times, bringing his Purple Heart total to eight. He also earned his second Silver Star for distinguished gallantry in action; four additional Bronze Star Medals (two for valor) for distinguished heroism against an enemy; four Air Medals for meritorious achievement beyond that normally expected, while participating in aerial flight; and the Army Commendation Medal for distinguished service. Buck retired in 1970. He died in 1989.
3. Maj. Gen. Robert T. Frederick
U.S. Army Major General Robert Frederick has the distinction of being the only general officer on this distinguished list of Purple Heart recipients. He was a founding member of the 1st Special Service Force in World War II, a unit in which he fought with in Italy, the Aleutian Islands, and North Africa.
Like many Purple Heart recipients from WWII, Frederick saw his fair share of combat with the 1st Special Service Force, and he was wounded several times. While fighting at Anzio he was wounded twice the same day. By the end of WWII, Frederick had received eight Purple Hearts, two Distinguished Service Crosses, and a Silver Star. He retired in 1952 and died in 1970.
In 1968, the movie, The Devil’s Brigade, was released. The actor William Holden played Frederick who was the unit’s commander. Frederick is considered by some to be the last general to actually fight in combat.
4. Col. David H. Hackworth
U.S. Army Colonel David Hackworth, affectionately known as “Hack,” was considered at one point in time the most decorated military veteran alive. He was also outspoken, and loved by most Joes, but he got mixed reviews from officers. He is best known for his epic book, About Face.
Hackworth came up the ranks the hard way. He was a battlefield commissioned officer having served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During the Korean War, Hack was awarded three Purple Heart medals.
He is on this list of Purple Heart recipients because after Korea, he returned to combat years later when he deployed to Vietnam. Like Korea, he served multiple tours in Vietnam. He would go on to earn another five Purple Heart medals, brining his total to eight Purple Hearts.
Hack is the only service member to ever be awarded the most Silver Stars; ten.
5. Capt. Joe Hooper
Hooper enlisted in the United States Navy in December 1956. After graduation from boot camp, he served aboard the USS Wasp and USS Hancock. He was honorably discharged in 1959 and about a year later he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman in 1960.
Hooper spent time in Korea and Panama before making his way to Vietnam. Eventually he deployed with the 101st Airborne Division and in 1968, Hooper’s heroic actions outside of Hue earned him the Medal of Honor and one of his first Purple Heart medals.
During his second tour in Vietnam, Hooper received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant, and he would go on to earn seven more Purple Heart medals, along with two Silver Stars, six Bronze Star medals for valor, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He is credited with 115 enemy killed in ground combat, 22 of which occurred in the battle that earned him the Medal of Honor. He became one of the most-decorated soldiers in the Vietnam War. He died in 1979.
6. Col. Robert L. Howard
Howard is one of four officers on this list to be promoted to the officer ranks directly from the enlisted ranks. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1956 and eventually found his way into Special Forces.
In 1967 Howard was assigned to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group in Vietnam. He spent four and a half years serving in Vietnam. He earned a Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross during those years.
In 1968, he earned the Medal of Honor and his first Purple Heart medal. He would get wounded seven more times before leaving Vietnam. He retired as a colonel in 1992. He died in 2009 in Waco, Texas.
7. Col. William L. Russell
Russell is the only National Guardsman on this Purple Hearts recipients list. He enlisted in the 153rd Infantry Regiment of the Arkansas National Guard during World War II and like others on this Purple Heart recipients list, he was the recipient of a direct commission.
During his time with the 83rd Infantry Division during World War II, Russell earned a Silver Star and was wounded eight times. After WWII, he returned to Arkansas, but was called up to participate in the Korean War. He retired from the military in 1965 as a colonel. He died in 2000.
8. Sgt. Maj. William Waugh
The second of two enlisted men on this Purple Heart recipients list, Waugh joined the U.S. Army in 1948 and eventually joined the special forces. He deployed to Vietnam in 1961 and went on to earn the Silver Star and his sixth Purple Heart.
Waugh retired in 1972, wounded twice more bringing his Purple Heart medal count to eight. He would continue his government service after his military retirement and he worked for the CIA, including a stint in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom at the age of 71.