The Purple Heart, then known as the Badge of Military Merit, was founded by General George Washington in 1782 and was the first U.S. military decoration awarded for bravery in action. Only three soldiers were awarded the Badge of Military Merit by Washington.
In 1932, General Douglas MacArthur campaigned to bring the medal back to recognize not only the bravery of the soldiers but also the wounded. After World War II, the medal was designated to observe combat injuries and deaths.
Over the years, the status of those eligible to receive the medal has continued to change. Soldiers wounded in friendly-fire incidents can be awarded the medal. President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order on February 23, 1984, allowing the award for soldiers injured by terrorist activities.
A superior officer can deny the awarding of the Purple Heart. Denials are required to review and concurrence by a General-level officer.
Some controversy arose around the Purple Heart in the 1950s when soldiers, sailors, and aviators suffered frostbite. The aviators were awarded the Purple Heart due to their injuries, but the soldiers and sailors were not, since the military rules out frostbite as an eligible injury. More controversy occurred on December 20, 1989, when soldiers who suffered from heat stroke received the honor, which upset many veteran groups. The army excludes heat stroke as an eligible injury.
As of today, the military has awarded an estimated 1.7 million Purple Hearts to soldiers, sailors, and airmen. One requirement in order to receive the award is that the wound must have required treatment by a medical officer.
Some notable people who have been awarded the Purple Heart are Major General Robert T. Frederick, who received it a record eight times. John F. Kennedy is the only U.S. president to be awarded the medal.