Considered to be the first military award of the United States Armed Forces, the Badge of Military Merit is the official predecessor to the highly-respected, yet rarely-coveted Purple Heart.
In 1782, General George Washington created two badges of distinction for American troops. One was a chevron that would be worn on the left sleeve for completing three years of duty “with bravery, fidelity, and good conduct.” The other was a “figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding” and was awarded for “any singularly meritorious action.” Washington’s goal was honor all ranks, high and low, for their gallantry and service to the country.
This was a huge departure from the standards of European warfare. In England, specifically, only high-ranking officers would be decorated with pomp and circumstance — not for individual achievement, but for the hard-fought victories of their men.
“The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all,” wrote General George Washington on the creation of the Badge of Military Merit.
Bear in mind, the Badge of Military Merit was awarded for “not only instances of unusual gallantry in battle, but also extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way” and not for being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States. The badge was awarded by Gen. Washington himself to Sergeant Elijah Churchill and Sergeant William Brown on May 3rd, 1783. A month later, he awarded the third and final badge to Sergeant Daniel Bissell Jr.
The award was never issued again, despite never being officially abolished. The award was the basis for the short-lived Army Wound Ribbon and the golden Wound Chevron. In 1932, the Purple Heart Medal was officially introduced and the Wound Chevron was no longer awarded. Regulations discouraged the simultaneous wear of a WWI Wound Chevron and a WWII Purple Heart, but many troops who were wounded in both did it anyway.