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American
Ex-POW List of
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Stalag XVII-B
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DULAG LUFT
STALAG XVII-B
Inside XVII-B
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(02/08/06)
Mystery Man of Stalag XVII-B

 

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Purple Heart

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Above and Beyond POW NEWS

The Military Order of the Purple Heart -What is it?
 

The ORDER of the PURPLE HEART for MILITARY MERIT, commonly called “The Purple Heart,” is an American decoration – the oldest military decoration in the world in present use and the first award made available to a common soldier. It was created by one of the world's most famed and best-loved heroes – General George Washington.

General Washington is often pictured as a cold, stern soldier, a proud aristocrat, a martinet. Perhaps he was all of these at times. Yet we know he showed sympathy and concern for his troops, and was not too proud to pray, humbly on his knees, for his beloved country and for the men who served it, and him, so bravely and with such great loyalty. His keen appreciation of the importance of the common soldier in any campaign impelled him to recognize outstanding valor and merit by granting a commission or an advance in rank for the person concerned. In the summer of 1782 he was ordered by the Continental Congress to cease doing so – there were no funds to pay the soldiers, much less the officers!

Deprived of his usual means of reward, he must have searched for a substitute. Shortly after receiving the “stop” order from Congress, he wrote his memorable General Orders of August 7, 1782, which read in part as follows:

 

“The General, ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers as well as 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 his 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 due reward... The name and regiment of the persons so certified are to be enrolled in a Book of Merit which shall be kept in the orderly room... Men who have merited this distinction to be suffered to pass all guards and sentinels which officers are permitted to do... The order to be retroactive to the earliest stages of the war, and to be a permanent one... The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.”
 

Lost or misfiled for almost 150 years among the War Department Records at Washington, D.C., this important paper came to light during the search for Washington's papers prior to the celebration of his Bi-Centennial in 1932. With it were the dramatic accounts of three soldiers who received the decoration at Newburgh, N.Y., at Washington's Headquarters. The book of Merit has not been found. The U.S. War Department revived the Purple Heart decoration on February 22, 1932. The revived form is of metal, instead of perishable cloth, made in the shape of a rich purple heart bordered with gold, with a bust of Washington in the center and the Washington coat-of-arms at the top. The latter is believed to have been the source of the stars and stripes of the American Flag.

     Intrinsically, the Purple Heart is the world's costliest military decoration - nineteen separate operations are required to make it from the rough heart stamped from bronze to the finished medal, plated with gold and enameled in various colors, suspended from a purple and white ribbon.

The ORDER of 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. It is definitely a combat decoration.

An organization now known as the “Military Order of the Purple Heart,” was formed in 1932 for the protection and mutual interest of all who have received the decoration. Composed exclusively of Purple Heart recipients, it is the only strictly “combat” organization in existence.

Funds for welfare, rehabilitation and/or service work carried on by the organization are derived almost entirely from the annual distribution of its official flower, The Purple Heart Viola. These are assembled by disabled and needy veterans, many of whom receive little or no compensation from other sources. Thus your contribution for a Viola serves a two-fold purpose – it helps the veteran who assembled it, and enables the organization to do many things in behalf of hospitalized and needy veterans and their families.

The Purple Heart Viola on your lapel is evidence that YOU have not forgotten the price of liberty paid in the past and still being paid by those who have borne the brunt of battle in defense of America.

Close relatives of Purple Heart recipients are eligible to belong to the Ladies Auxiliary of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which does important work nationally and locally in Veterans' Hospitals. Further information about the Order and its auxiliary may be obtained from the National Headquarters as listed below.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart
5413-B Backlick Road
Springfield, Virginia 22151
(703) 642-5360
(703) 642-2054 (fax)