History of the Purple HeartEdit
The Badge of Military Merit was established by George Washington on August 7, 1782. Originally a heart-shaped patch of purple cloth, there have only been three confirmed instances of its award to revolutionary war soldiers. Following the war, the decoration fell into disuse but was never abolished.
In 1927, Army Chief of Staff General Charles Pelot Summerall directed that a draft bill be sent to Congress "to revive the Badge of Military Merit". The bill was further pursued by Summerall’s successor, General Douglas MacArthur, and by Executive Order of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart was finally revived on the 200th Anniversary of George Washington's birth, through War Department General Orders No. 3, dated February 22, 1932. The eligibility for the award was backdated to April 5, 1917, the day before the US entered World War I.
The revived decoration was called the Purple Heart and was designed by Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quartermaster General.The award is a heart-shaped medal within a gold border, 1 ⅜ inches wide, containing a profile of General George Washington. Above the heart appears a shield of the his coat of arms (a white shield with two red bars and three red stars in chief) between sprays of green leaves. The reverse consists of a raised bronze heart with the words FOR MILITARY MERIT below the coat of arms and leaves. The ribbon is 1 ⅜ inches wide and consists of the white and purple stripes. Multiple awards are denoted with oak leaf clusters (for the Army and Air Force) or stars (other services).
The Award of the Purple HeartEdit
Unlike other military decorations, a wounded serviceman need not be recommended for the Purple Heart. He can receive it as a matter of entitlement so long as he meets certain criteria. These criteria specify, in brief, that the wound must have been the result of some form of enemy action. This would rule out frostbite, diseases and self-inflicted injuries, but would allow for friendly-fire, if the projectile was discharged "with the full intent of inflicting damage or destroying enemy troops or equipment." Commanders have some flexibility to consider the circumstances surrounding an injury and judge as to the degree it was caused by hostile action.
As Purple Hearts were often given out in the field during conflict, records were not always kept rigorously. In World War II and the Korean War, it was common for a commander visiting a hospital to carry a box of Purple Hearts and pin them onto the pillows of the patients.
The Purple Heart in M*A*S*HEdit
As a show about a hospital for wounded soldiers, the Purple Heart would naturally feature frequently in M*A*S*H.
Among the main characters, Radar was particularly proud of receiving his Purple Heart after being wounded by an enemy mortar attack in "Fallen Idol". Potter said he won a Purple Heart when his still blow up in World War II but he was certainly wounded by an enemy gas attack in World War I. Potter was later shot by a sniper in Season 4 "Dear Ma". A Purple Heart can be seen on Henry Blake's uniform although the circumstances of its award were never mentioned.
Frank Burns particularly coveted the Purple Heart. He first applied for one when he threw out his back in "Sometimes Your Hear the Bullet", but Hawkeye stole it and presented it to the underaged soldier Private Wendell who was being sent home but who badly needed something to impress his girlfriend. in "The Kids", Burns again applied for a Purple Heart on the grounds that his eye was injured by "shell fragments" during an enemy sniper attack. Hawkeye and B.J. was aghast at this, since the injury was caused by egg-shell fragments! Hawkeye later stole this second Purple Heart so that Potter could present it to the new born baby of Sung-Lee, a Korean woman who had been shot by a sniper.
Hawkeye might have qualified for a Purple Heart when he was injured by a splinter as the result of enemy artillery in Season 6 "Comrades in Arms, Part 1" had he bothered to apply for one. B.J. was shot by Frank in "The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan" and it could be argued that anything coming from Frank Burns was discharged with the full intent of hurting the enemy (even when the enemy is nowhere to be seen).
Practically all of the patients in the MASH would have qualified for the Purple Heart although not all welcomed it. In Season 7 "Preventative Medicine", Colonel Lacy arrives at the MASH with a box full of Purple Hearts for his men but none of them wanted it, most notably, Corporal North who blames the uncaring Colonel for endangering the lives of his men.
(work in progress)