CBS Local — Before George Washington became the nation’s first president, the famed Revolutionary War general entered the history books by creating a revered national symbol: the Purple Heart. August 7 marks National Purple Heart Day, the 235th year since the military award’s creation.

In 1782, General Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, established a “badge for military merit.” The award was originally decorated for “any singularly meritorious action” and was reportedly only given to three soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Washington’s heart-shaped badge of merit was largely forgotten until the 20th century.

In 1932, Washington’s 200th birthday, the U.S. War Department created the “Order of the Purple Heart.” A picture of the first president was added the Purple Heart and it would now be awarded to members of the armed forces who had been killed or wounded in combat. The Purple Heart is also given to soldiers who have been held and mistreated as prisoners of war.

It’s estimated that over 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded in the country’s history. Many were retroactively given to soldiers who fought in World War I and the Civil War. In April, President Trump awarded his first Purple Heart to Army sergeant Alvaro Barrietos at Walter Reed National Medical Center. Barrietos had suffered a serve leg injury while serving in Afghanistan.


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