Medal of Honor, Purple Heart: awards of distinction

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Awards are presented to military soldiers for their acts of bravery during combat, but there are two which stand apart from the rest.

The Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart are two that set apart those who have given of themselves for others, some giving the ultimate sacrifice.

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, “the Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. Generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress.”

Retired U.S. Army Col. Sam Mims says this is the highest award a soldier can receive and very prestigious.

“That’s the bravery of the highest order,” Mims said. “That’s the best we do. There aren’t many people walking around with that. Some people get those posthumously, because it is such a high magnitude of bravery, a lot of people die in the process of receiving that award. It is for the highest degree of bravery. The Medal of Honor is the best that we can do.”

The Navy Medal of Honor was first introduced in 1861 in Congress as a way to honor valor in action in combat. Today, there are three variations of the award, according to the MOH Society, all with the same distinction.

The latest Medal of Honor to be presented was done so June 2, by President Barack Obama. The recipient was Private Henry Johnson of Company C, the 396th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division and the United States Army. He joined the Armed Forces in 1918, and he received the award due to his valiant effort ending in many enemy casualties during a surprise attack by the Germans. During the battle, according to his history, one of his fellow soldiers was gravely wounded and captured by two Germans.

Gravely wounded himself, he was able to advance his company far enough to battle the Germans and rescue his fellow soldier.

The Purple Heart is bestowed on military service members who were wounded in combat, Mims says, and it is a very prestigious award in itself.

“The Purple Heart is given to everybody who is wounded in combat,” he said. “You only get a Purple Heart if you get wounded in combat. It’s not given lightly. It is a prestigious award. You may get the Purple Heart in conjunction with another award. When you see someone wearing a Purple Heart, they sustained some kind of an injury.”

According to the Purple Heart Association, the Purple Heart, also known as the Badge of Military Merit, is the oldest known military decoration still in use.

History indicates the Purple Heart, or the Badge of Military Merit, was created in August 1782. Of the medal, Gen. George Washington wrote, “The General ever desirous to cherish a virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military Merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due award.”

During the American Revolutionary War, only three people received this honored distinction: Sgt. William Brown, 5th Connecticut Regiment of the Connecticut Line and Sgt. Elijah Churchill, 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, both on May 3, 1783; and Sgt. Daniel Bissell, 2nd Connecticut Regiment of the Connecticut Line on June 10, 1783.

“The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action,” according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart. “It is specifically a combat decoration.”

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