The Military Badge of Merit

Francis HushnerThe first precedent for honoring servicemen in American History, which involved the awarding of medals, goes back to August 7, 1782. On this date, General George Washington, then Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army issued orders establishing two decorations. He recognized the need to award soldiers who distinguished themselves in honorable service and in combat. The first was the, "Badge of Distinction" and consisted of a strip of white cloth sewn above the left cuff of the regimental coat. The soldier received one strip for every three years of service. Today, we refer to them as hash marks.

The second award, "The Military Badge of Merit", was created for "singularly meritorious service, instances of unusual gallantry and extraordinary fidelity and faithful service." General Washington personally designed the award, specifying that it be "the figure of a heart in purple cloth silk, edged with narrow lace or binding". It was worn on the left breast. Those soldiers would have their names entered in the army special Book of Merit. Soldiers wearing this decoration, regardless of rank, were permitted to pass all sentinels and receive salutes as if they were officers. In today's military these honors are reserved for the Medal of Honor recipients.

The Military Badge of Merit is the precursor to what is now the Purple Heart. It is the oldest military award given to members of the U.S. Military and the first ever made available to enlisted personnel. It was awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers; all of whom were born in Connecticut. They were Sergeant Elijah Churchill from Enfield and Connecticut's 2nd Regiment of the Light Dragoons; Sergeant William Brown from Stamford of Connecticut's' Fifth Regiment of Foot; Sergeant Daniel Bissell from East Windsor and the 2nd Connecticut Regiment. These soldiers are the only known recipients of the Military Badge of Merit during the Revolutionary War. Although the award was discontinued it was not officially abolished.

Revolutionary War Soldiers Recognized for Valor

Sergeant Churchill, the first recipient of the Badge of Merit, was recognized for leading two amazing raids. The first was against a heavily fortified Fort George on Long Island. He led a charge against the main block house and completely surprised the enemy. The fort fell within minutes. Tons of hay was destroyed and 54 British regulars captured. He then fought a rear guard action that allowed the main raiding party to escape. He and his men safely followed. The 2nd raid occurred on October 10, 1781. Sergeant Churchill, as the senior non -commissioned officer, led a 150 man attack against the British Fort Slongo at Treadwell's Neck on Long Island. He and his fellow Connecticut Dragoons wreaked havoc on the fort, capturing the entire garrison and a great deal of stores.

Sergeant Brown earned his Badge of Merit by leading a late night attack on the British during which he led a Group called the "Forlorn Hope". The title was appropriate as none of the members expected to survive. This group of volunteers was comprised of Sappers and Pioneers armed with traditional weapons and heavy axes. Their suicidal assignment was to move in advance of the main force and chop holes in the abatis (sharpened stakes facing away from the walls of the redoubt). During the battle, Sergeant Brown moved ahead of the group, climbed over the abatis and attacked the enemy. The infantry followed his lead and the redoubt fell with minimum American casualties.

Sergeant Daniel Bissell under the direct orders of George Washington volunteered to spy on the British Army in New York City. In August of 1781 when Washington was seriously considering an attack on the city, the then 28 year old dressed in civilian clothes and slipped into the city. Pretending to be a deserter he served in Benedict Arnold's Loyalist Regiment. After serving for 13 months he slipped away from the city and was captured by the American forces that had surrounded the city. In chains, he was taken to General Washington who personally vouched for him. From memory the Sergeant was able to draw maps of the fortifications and troop deployments on Manhattan and Staten Island-information that was critical to Washington.

The exploits of these patriots are noteworthy and the bravery they displayed would in today's service have earned them recognition in the form of the current "Medal of Honor."

The Purple Heart Medal is Established

Some 150 years after the award of the Military Badge of Merit, on February 22, 1931, the United States War Department announced the Purple Heart had been revived as a military decoration. It would be awarded to soldiers who receive, "a wound which necessitates treatment by a medical officer and which is received in action with the enemy may in the judgment of the Commander authorized to make the award be construed as resulting from a singularly meritorious act of essential service." The decoration was initially made retroactive to eligible soldiers who served in WW I.

Not content with allowing their wounded veterans to merely receive their Purple Heart Medals in the mail, recipients from the Connecticut cities and towns of Derby, Ansonia, Seymour, and Shelton, CT were awarded their decorations in an elaborate ceremony at Community Field in Ansonia, CT. The Ceremony was incorporated into the communities Washington Bicentennial Celebration that was held on September 21, 1932.

The Purple Heart Association

Following the Bicentennial Celebration, the Purple Heart recipients formed an organization called the Purple Heart Association. Seeking to form a national organization, the local group called themselves "George Washington Chapter, No 1" and designated their officers as national officers of the Purple Heart Association. Ansonia resident Frank Cushner was elected The National Commander.

A constitution was also established and read as follows: "We veterans of the wars of the United States, in order to perpetuate the principles of national patriotism and justice do hereby ordain and establish the Purple Heart Association, a union of those who saw active service in such wars and who because of their valiant service have been awarded the medal of the order of the purple heart founded by our first President, George Washington, and revived during his bicentennial."

"We pledge ourselves to foster those ideals of liberty, justice, and common welfare, which have made the United States the great nation that it is today and we pledge ourselves to form this union of veterans in order to perpetuate those principles which are the foundation of our national life. So believing and so pledging ourselves, we establish this as our constitution."

The State of Connecticut incorporated the association on September 30, 1932.

By October of 1932 the Purple Heart association had grown to 10 Chapters in six states and more were in the process of organizing. The first national convention of the association was held in Derby Connecticut on October 6-7, 1933. It was held at the Derby Connecticut Sterling Opera House. The convention opened with over 60 delegates from California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Opera House was packed with many spectators, dignitaries and others. It was noted that many of the delegates were disabled and disfigured from wounds received during WW I. During the convention, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Purple Heart Association, in a fiery address denounced the National Economic League for subsidizing writers "to falsify and malign the veteran and misrepresent him, stating "the truly disabled veteran is not a man with a tin cup. He asks only for a square deal." There are powers which are striving to force down the throats of the American people a distorted picture of those who spilled their blood on the fields of France while men now members of the National Economy League waxed fat on wartime profiteering." In addition General Hines of the Veterans Bureau, as well as the Roosevelt Administration was denounced. Stating "In the name of economy, have not only wrought injustice to blind and maimed veterans of the World War, but even cutting the thinning ranks of the veterans of the Civil War."

During the convention national committees were formed, rules of the convention, and constitutional amendments established. In addition the Purple Heart Auxiliary was formed. The National Officers selected were:

National Commander Ansonia, CT Frank Cushner
Vice Commander St Paul, MI Kimon Karelis
1st Jr. Vice Commander New York, NY Joseph A. Marks
2nd Jr. Vice Commander Los Angeles, CA Marion F. Smith
3rd Jr. Vice Commander North Adams, MA Col. James Tracey Potter
4th Jr. Vice Commander Newark, NJ Howard J. Lepper

Following the conclusion of the convention a parade that traveled through the towns of Derby, Ansonia and Shelton was witnessed by some 50,000 enthusiastic supporters.

During WW II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued executive order 9277 on December 3, 1942, that decreed the Purple Heart would be issued to all branches of the military and differs from all other decorations in that an individual is not "recommended" for the decoration. Rather the individual is "entitled" to it upon meeting the specific criteria of: "wounds received while engaged against an enemy of the United States of America."

On August 22, 1958, the Congress of the United States chartered the organization by passing H.R.558 which became Public Law 85-761. The law also changed the organizations' name to the Military Order of the Purple Heart of the United States of America, Inc.'(MOPH)

Mission Statement

The Mission of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Department of Connecticut is to foster an environment of goodwill and camaraderie among combat wounded veterans, promote patriotism, support necessary legislative issues, and most importantly provide service to all veterans and their families.