The Badge of Military Merit, the original Purple Heart, was established by George Washington on August 7, 1782. It wasn’t until after World War I that it would be officially proposed again, when Army Chief of Staff General Charles Pelot Summerall petitioned Congress to bring back the award in 1927. Until initially unsuccessful, Summerall’s successor, General Douglas MacArthur, revived the effort in 1931.
Following a redesign by Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quartermaster General, the Badge of Military Merit became the Purple Heart and on February 22, 1932, the War Department began awarding the Purple Heart to those who were injured or killed while serving after April 5, 1917. MacArthur was the first honored.
Since 1932, over 1.8 million brave men and women have been awarded the Purple Heart. Beginning in 2010, Americans have celebrated those individuals on August 7, National Purple Heart Day. We know many of the politicians, such as John F. Kennedy and John McCain, generals, such as Wesley Clark and Norman Schwarzkopf, who were awarded the Purple Heart and undoubtedly you have many among friends and family. But some of those awarded also went on to careers in entertainment and sports. Check out some of those Purple Heart honorees below.
The author of such great novels as Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle once joked: “I myself was awarded my country’s second-lowest decoration, a Purple Heart for frost-bite.” The truth is that Vonnegut was captured with about 50 other American soldiers in Dresden on December 22, 1944. When Dresden was firebombed by the Allies in February 1945, Vonnegut took refuge in a meat locker three stories underground.
The Death Wish star served as a Boeing B-29 Superfortress aerial gunner with the Guam-based 61st Bombardment Squadron within the 39th Bombardment Group in the Pacific Theater during World War II and received a Purple Heart for wounds received in battle after flying 25 missions.
Best known as “The Professor” on TV’s Gilligan’s Island, Johnson served as a navigator in a B-25 with the 100th Bombardment Squadron, 42nd Bombardment Group, 13th Air Force during World War II. Johnson was shot down over Zamboanga City and broke both ankles. In addition to the Purple Heart, Johnson was awarded the Air Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three campaign stars, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one campaign star, and the World War II Victory Medal.
The star of TV’s The Rockford Files received two Purple Hearts while serving as a rifleman in the 5th Regimental Combat Team during the Korean War. The first was when he was injured in the face and hand by shrapnel fire from a mortar round while the second was for a friendly fire shot to the buttocks from US fighter jets as he dove headfirst into a foxhole.
Spahn played 19 seasons as a pitcher for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves. He also saw action in the Battle of the Bulge and at the Ludendorff Bridge as a combat engineer after his first season in the Minors in 1942. He was awarded a Purple Heart and returned to MLB in 1946.
The creator of The Twilight Zone also served in World War II as a paratrooper. While serving with the 511th’s demolition platoon, nicknamed “The Death Squad” for its high casualty rate, Serling was injured during the Battle of Leyte. The death and destruction Serling witnessed shaped his views for decades after.
The Platoon director served in Vietnam with 2nd Platoon, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Infantry Division and was twice wounded in action, receiving the Bronze Star with “V” Device for heroism, the Purple Heart with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster to denote two awards, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Tillman, an NFL safety with the Arizona Cardinals, served several tours in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. He died as a result of friendly fire in 2004 and was posthumously awarded Silver Star and Purple Heart medals.
Although the Purple Heart is not usually awarded to animals, the following are two exceptions to the rule.
This pooch served for 18 months and participated in 17 battles on the Western Front, saving his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks and even once catching a German by the seat of his pants and holding him until backup could arrive.
Purchased in October 1952 for $250 by members of the USMC from a Korean stableboy at the Seoul racetrack, Reckless went on to be a pack horse for the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. She would sleep inthe Marines’ tents, eat scrambled eggs and beer, and deliver supplies to the troops without the need of a handler. She once made 51 slo trips to resupply front line troops in one day. She was wounded in combat twice and promoted to sergeant in 1954, several months after the war ended.