At The Daily Flag, I like to write about American postage stamps where the U.S. flag or state flags appear. Sometimes the flag is the primary focus of the stamp, and sometimes it is simply part of the overall scene. My main resource for finding “stamps with flags” is The Postal Service Guide to U.S. Stamps, 33rd Edition (2006). I cannot call myself a philatelist—not even the most amateur of one, but I do enjoy slowly scanning the pages of this book. When I find a stamp that I think contains the U.S. or a state flag, then I research more intensely.
The newly re-issued Purple Heart stamp does not have a flag on it. However, the Purple Heart medal incorporates George Washington’s family coat of arms, and because that coat of arms is the basis for the flag for the municipality of Washington D.C.—that is more than enough to send me in search of more information.
But first—the stamp. It was originally issued on May 30, 2003, at Mount Vernon, VA. The second issuance was on May 26, 2006, at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
Re-issued for the third time on August 7, this occasion celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Purple Heart Medal, as it exists today. The stamp features a photograph by Ira Wexler of a Purple Heart medal—the medal awarded to Lieutenant Colonel James Loftus Fowler, U.S. Marines, in 1968.
It is also the 225th anniversary of the Badge of Military Merit, the predecessor to what we now call the Purple Heart. It was established and first awarded by General George Washington on August 7, 1782.
The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to members of the U.S. military who have been wounded or killed in action. It is one of the oldest military decorations in the world and the first award made available to a common soldier. Prior to Washington’s creation of this medal, only officers were given medal.
Regarding the Badge of Military Merit, Washington said:
The General ever desirous to cherish 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 reward. Before this favour can be conferred on any man, the particular fact, or facts, on which it is to be grounded must be set forth to the Commander in chief accompanied with certificates from the Commanding officers of the regiment and brigade to which the Candadate [sic] for reward belonged, or other incontestable proofs, and upon granting it, the name and regiment of the person with the action so certified are to be enrolled in the book of merit which will be kept at the orderly office. Men who have merited this last distinction to be suffered to pass all guards and sentinals [sic] which officers are permitted to do. The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all. This order is also to have retrospect to the earliest stages of the war, and to be considered as a permanent one.
The original Badge of Military Merit was personally given to three men by General Washington, and remarkably, two of them still exist. The third was destroyed in a house fire.
Coming next: The connection to the Washington Coat of Arms, and how it links to several American flags.