Established in its current form on February 22, 1932, the Purple Heart Medal honors United States military members who are wounded or killed in the line of service on or subsequent to April 5, 1917. As far back as 1782, however, George Washington had established the Badge of Military Merit to honor soldiers wounded in the Revolutionary War. With its 1932 authorization, individuals who had previously been granted the Army Wound Ribbon, Wound Chevrons, or the Meritorious Service Citation Certificate became eligible for the Purple Heart. Between 1942 and 1997, civilians were also eligible for the award.
In 2009, National Geographic provided estimates the number of awards issued in historical conflicts, as listed below:
-320, 518 in the First World War
-1,076,245 in the Second World War
-118,650 in the Korean War
-351,794 in the Vietnam War
-607 in the Persian Gulf War
-7,027 in the Afghanistan War (ongoing at time of estimate)
-35,321 in the Iraq War (ongoing at time of estimate)
Qualifying events typically entail death or injury sustained while in combat with enemy forces or resulting from the actions of enemy forces. It may also be awarded for service carried out with friendly foreign militaries or joint task forces.
Medical documentation is required for the award to be issued. Eligible injuries may include those inflicted by enemy projectiles including bullets and shrapnel; chemical or nuclear agents; motorcraft accident that results from enemy action; or enemy explosive devices or traps. Death or injury resulting from friendly fire may also qualify an individual for the award.
The medal is in the shape of a heart with purple enamel in the center, also heart-shaped, and the image of George Washington in profile; at the top of the medal appears a white shield with red stars and stripes flanked by laurel sprigs. The ribbon is purple with white edging.
Subsequent awards are indicated by oak leaf clusters or service stars.