The Depot

Book Chronicles Purple Heart Recipients of WWII

Among U.S. Navy Commander David Schwind’s personal collection is a small box containing a Purple Heart medal posthumously awarded to U.S. Army Air Forces Lt. William Hatton, pilot of the B-24D Liberator Lady Be Good, which disappeared without a trace in the Libyan Desert April 4, 1943 while on its first combat mission.

“I had known about the story of the Lady Be Good since I was a kid and the story itself always fascinated me,” Schwind said. “And I just happened to get really lucky and happened to acquire the pilot’s purple heart in my personal collection and so obviously I had to write about it because this is one of the stories I grew up with. It really struck a chord with me through most of my life.”

The story of the Lady Be Good and her pilot and crew are among more than 300 profiles of military members from all branches of service in Schwind’s most recent book, Sacrifice Remembered: Posthumous Awards of the Purple Heart Medal in the Second World War.

The result of two years of research, Schwind brings together the stories of service members from the Army, Army Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Public Health Service, along with detailed color photos of their medals and accompanying documents to create the most complete reference book available on the Purple Heart and all U.S. valor medals of World War II.


“There are a lot of variations of Purple Hearts, and they range from whether it’s a Navy Purple Heart made by the U.S. Mint and engraved in a certain style or whether its is a Purple Heart made for the Army under contract by The Robbins Company of Massachusetts,” Schwind said. “Finding out how they were manufactured, and the different styles really raises the level of appreciation for the actual object. I like to make books that are the most value added possible, so I also included all the rest of the person’s medals earned, which means there are also up close and personal pictures of Medals of Honor, Silver Stars, Distinguished Service Crosses, Navy Crosses and more.”

Available on Amazon and through publisher Medals Press, the 593-page book is divided into five parts, including an introduction detailing the origin and history of the Purple Heart and thirteen chapters profiling awards by branch, theater, and battle, with separate chapters on awards to fallen prisoners of war, families that lost multiple children and non-Purple Heart posthumous awards of valor. The final chapter details the casualty process to notification of next of kin and contains photographs never previously published. Four appendices tailored for collectors, historians and researchers address Purple Heart award boxes and shipping containers, Purple Heart types and engraving styles, information on researching the history of Purple Hearts and one appendix lists the 14,379 known, traceable and identifiable numbered Purple Hearts. The remaining pages include bibliography, references and index.

“You don’t have to have earned a Purple Heart or to have even served in the military to really appreciate what it represents, the sacrifice that it represents,” Schwind said. “I wanted to convey those thoughts through the book and particularly to people who are collectors or historians who weren’t people who have served in the military. That’s really 85 to 90 percent of why I wrote the book, to say this medal that you’re holding in your hand is not just a collector’s item, this represents a person and the sacrifices they made for our country; to really convey the depth of what it represents and in particular the posthumous Purple Heart and what it meant as far as being the last tangible reminder of someone’s life on earth.”

In the course of his research, Schwind conducted interviews and photographed more than 1,700 Purple Hearts held by museums, historians and collectors and Gold Star families.

“As a historian, it was really amazing,” Schwind said. “Being able to go and share with the families the stories of what their family member had done during the war, what they had done to earn these awards, that was the emotional part of it. A number of times families teared up… the stories had been lost and I was able to convey to the families that what their family member did was literally heroic and, in some cases, it put a new respect for their dad’s, uncle’s or grandfather’s lives. That to me was worth everything I invested in writing the book.”

Retiring from the Navy in Norfolk on April 30, Schwind is currently working on a companion volume on posthumous Purple Heart Medals awarded post-Second World War.

“I honestly had enough Purple Hearts from the Second World War to do several volumes just from the Second World War, but it’s one of those things where time and money and everything else competes,” Schwind said. “That was tough because there were some really good stories that I wanted to include and unfortunately I just didn’t have room for them.

“Then what I decided to do was a second volume with the stories of men and women who have given their lives for our country from the Korean War all the way to the current Global War on Terror with Afghanistan, Iraq and quite a few in-between.” 

The in-person interviews with recently bereaved families are the most poignant, Schwind said.

“The amount of emotion that goes with those is something that you just can’t effectively convey,” Schwind said. “I’ve talked to a lot of families and I‘ve seen a lot of tears. They’ve been telling me the story of their loved one and it’s made me have an even deeper appreciation for what I’m writing about and made me want to honor them even more. It really drives home the importance of what the medal represents.”

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.

What Does A Purple Heart Mean? 5 Facts You Didn't Know

What does a Purple Heart mean?

The answer to that question depends a lot on who is asked. For many military personnel, a Purple Heart is an award that many want to avoid. While it is one of the most honorable awards presented to U.S. military personnel on behalf of the president of the United States, it is an indicator that a person was injured or killed during combat with an enemy of the United States. The circumstances to qualify for the award tend to be precarious.

Here are five facts you probably didn't know about the Purple Heart that might help you answer the question, what does a Purple Heart mean?

1. Automatic Entitlement
The Purple Heart is an award that military personnel are automatically entitled to if they meet the criteria. A wounded or killed service member is not recommended for the award much like a medal presented for achievement. For military personnel the question, what does a Purple Heart mean, is answered simply. The Purple Heart means that a U.S. military member exposed themselves to harm in service to their nation and in some cases, that service cost them their lives. Within the ranks of the U.S. military, the Purple Heart is revered and respected and for many it is reflective of the values military personnel live each day.

Some military personnel take for granted that most Americans know what the Purple Heart is, or there is an assumption that they should know because of the magnitude of the award. However, a common question amongst civilians is what does a Purple Heart mean? Let's look into the medal's background.

2. U.S. Military's First Medal
The first decoration or medal of the U.S. military was created in 1780 by the Continental Congress. It was called the Fidelity Medallion and it was created to recognize three Continental Army soldiers who captured British Army Major John André, the man who had worked with Benedict Arnold to betray the colonies. The Fidelity Medal, also known as the André Capture Medal, was presented to three soldiers who were members of the New York militia. Privates Isaac Van Wart, David Williams and John Paulding all received the award. The Fidelity Medallion was never again awarded and for this reason the Badge of Military Merit, which later became the Purple Heart, is considered the first military medal of the U.S. military. More clearly, it is the oldest U.S. military medal still awarded.

Non-veterans and people unassociated or unfamiliar with the U.S. military might ask what does a Purple Heart mean? The answer is in the country’s history.

3. Designed by Washington
In 1782, George Washington designed and created the Badge of Military Merit. Initially the award was to recognize meritorious military service. The decoration would be presented to soldiers who displayed gallantry in battle, but also fidelity in their service. The Badge of Military Merit was an award that was created by Washington for all soldiers and not just for officers who had been victorious in battle. Military protocols in the 1700s recognized officers mostly.

Enlisted soldiers Elijah Churchill, Daniel Bissell and William Brown were the first Continental Army soldiers to receive the Badge of Military Merit for their service in key Revolutionary War battles. But after the colonies earned their independence, the Badge of Military Merit became a dormant award for roughly 150 years. There were no real answers when someone asked what does a Purple Heart mean because the award was all but obsolete.

4. MacArthur Revived the Medal
In 1932, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur decided to breathe new life into the award to help commemorate the bicentennial of Washington’s birthday. MacArthur worked with the War Department and renamed the Badge of Military Merit; it became the Purple Heart because the Badge’s original configuration was a heart-shaped cloth. 

MacArthur helped design the Purple Heart Medal to look as we know it today. The medal has a purple ribbon and a heart-shaped medallion with the bust of Washington in the center. MacArthur would become the first person to receive the modern version of the Purple Heart. Military historians believe he awarded himself the medal retroactively for service in World War I. About 136 World War I veterans also received the initial award. What does a Purple Heart mean to those WWI veterans? That their sacrifices and the physical harm they endured for the nation was recognized.

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt refined the rules for the Purple Heart by expanding eligibility of the award to other services and issuing a strict-criteria that the award only be awarded to those wounded or killed in combat. U.S. military members of any rank qualify for the award if they have been wounded or killed in action.

5. Millions have earned the medal
Today, when people ask what does a Purple Heart mean, Americans should know that roughly 1.8 million Purple Heart Medals have been awarded since it was created in 1932. The majority have been presented to men and women who have been wounded or killed in action.

For some U.S. military families, the question what does a Purple Heart mean has a special answer because their family members were either wounded in battle or have been killed in action. For them, August 7, Purple Heart Day in the United States, is a day unlike any other and they take time to pause and reflect on their wounded or killed family members.

The Purple Heart Medal is an award that can be bestowed multiple times to a single individual.

Service members can receive multiple Purple Heart Medals throughout their military careers. U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Albert Ireland was awarded the Purple Heart medal nine times over a 12-year period. He was wounded five times while serving in World War II and then received four additional wounds during the Korean War. Curry T. Haynes, a deceased Army veteran of the Vietnam War earned 10 Purple Hearts, according to the USO, but aside from a news article, the information is unverified.

Haynes received his first Purple Heart after being shot in the arm in an ambush and after surgery in Japan, he returned to his unit which was fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. During one battle, he would be wounded nine times by a variety of enemy weapons. The action cost him two fingers.

What does a Purple Heart mean? After reading this, one word should come to mind. Sacrifice.

History of U.S. Military Medals

andre capture medal

In the U.S. military, the history of awards and decorations is, for the most part, not really something that is taught or handed down as a historical legacy. While military medals have an important role in the U.S. military, the history of how military medals became a part of the U.S. military culture is rarely discussed. That said, here’s what we’ve dug up.

A medal is normally metal that is struck with a design to commemorate an event. They are created using various methods, but these days most are done using pressured machines. In the past, bronze, silver and gold were used. Today, most military medals are made of metal alloys.

Antonio di Puccio Pisano, also known more commonly as Pisanello, is known widely as the inventor of the medal as we know it today. Pisano’s first medal, made in 1438, commemorated the visit to Italy of Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaeologus. Pisanello’s medals were small reliefs or portraits and according to historians, they were given out to nobility. Pisanello’s medal-making process stayed in Italy until around the 16th Century and then it spread to neighboring countries in Europe.

While it is subject to debate, the historian Titus Flavius Josephus wrote that Alexander the Great presented a button-like award to one of his military leaders which could mark the first military medal ever presented. And the Romans also used coin-like medallions to recognize military participation, effort and achievement and some of those medallions adorned Roman warriors as jewelry. Roman soldiers decorated themselves with medallions known as phalera. The phalerae that had been awarded to them represented the campaigns in which they had fought.

Similarly, according to an article published by the U.S. Navy, the Egyptians had the Order of the Golden Fly, a golden necklace decorated with flies to signify themselves as a pestilence to the enemy. During the Middle Ages, the jewelry presented for military achievement evolved into a pendant-like item, shaped like a disc. Known as a bracteate, this thin medal included loops that made them easy to wear. One of these, the Liuhard medalet, was struck in 6th Century CE.

In the 16th Century, medals were struck by rulers to commemorate specific events, including military battles and more specifically, military victories. The wider use of military medals was on the rise and the roots of our current military award system grew from this era. Specifically, combatants were presented with tokens from those who had sent them into harm’s way, but it should come as no surprise to anyone in the ranks that the bulk of the appreciation was poured on high-ranking military leaders.

Fast forward to the 13 colonies. Many in the U.S. military ranks incorrectly believe that the first U.S. military medal was the Badge of Military Merit which was created in 1782 and eventually became the Purple Heart. However, the oldest U.S. military medal is in fact the Fidelity Medallion which was created by the Continental Congress in 1780 and presented to those who captured British Army Major John André, the man who had worked with Benedict Arnold to betray the colonies. The Fidelity medal, also known as the André Capture Medal, was presented to three soldiers who were members of the New York militia. Privates Isaac Van Wart, David Williams and John Paulding all received the award. The Fidelity Medallion was never again awarded and for this reason the Badge of Military Merit is considered the first military medal of the U.S. military.

It is worth noting though that the Continental Congress had voted to present General George Washington, General Horatio Gates and Captain John Paul Jones with gold medallions for their national contributions in defeat of the British, however, the recognition would not be bestowed until 1790 after Washington was president. So the first-ever U.S. military medals were presented to Army privates and not high-ranking officers.

And while those who have served understand the difference, it is important to note that many in the civilian sector make no differentiation between awards and decorations. Yet they are two vastly different things. A decoration is usually earned for specific acts of bravery or achievement. An award or service medal is usually presented for service in a particular role or for service in a particular geographical area during a specific period of time.

For example, a military member who served as part of the COVID-19 response is eligible to wear the Armed Forces Service Medal or the Humanitarian Service Medal see (Depot Blog article). A soldier who deployed to Iraq is authorized to wear the Iraqi Campaign Medal and a soldier who has deployed to Afghanistan is authorized to wear the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, much like the Vietnam Service Medal is awarded for service in the geographical theater areas of Vietnam. These awards are earned by participation in a specific operation, like the Southwest Asia Service Medal for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

One of the lesser known and early “service medals” is the Légion d’honneu which was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to recognize meritorious service. The award has since evolved into being one of France’s highest honors, but when Bonaparte created it, the award was inclusive and awarded to all ranks. Bonaparte recognized that these awards had a positive impact on the morale of his soldiers. They were, however, normally restricted for wear in formal uniforms. Bonaparte’s soldiers, in keeping with practices established by the Crusaders hundreds of years earlier, wore their awards over their left breast near the heart. The left side is also the shield side where swords were normally worn to be drawn with the right hand, shields protected not only the heart, but the awards.

Decorations are presented to the individual for gallantry, meritorious service or achievement. For example, a private can earn an Army Achievement Medal for being an exceptional soldier. A sailor can develop a new maintenance widget on a ship that saves the Navy millions of dollars per year and earn a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. A Marine can fight like a lion in a firefight while deployed and earn a Silver Star for gallantry. The point is, there are some awards that are given to everyone for being a part of an event (commemorating an event) and there are some medals presented to the individual for a job well done.

The one thing we know for sure is the military medals system of the U.S. military is imperfect. It is a system where some argue that awards like the Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Legion of Merit and other military medals are given out too liberally to those who are closer to the flag pole and those who are out executing the mission and putting themselves at greater risk earn military medals of lesser impact. Opinions vary on the efficacy of the U.S. military medals system, but one thing is definite.

It was George Washington’s establishment of the Badge of Military Merit in 1782 that truly ushered in the use of U.S. military medals and created a military medals system for gallantry, fidelity and service. In 1932, Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur revived the dormant Badge of Military Merit and the Purple Heart was established by order of the president with Washington’s likeness in the center of the medal and the words “For Military Merit” stamped on the reverse side of the medal, a tip of the hat to the award’s original roots.