A U.S. philatelic perennial for the last 16 years, a new Forever Purple Heart stamp to be sold at the “Forever” first-class rate (currently 55¢) was first announced by the U.S. Postal Service on June 30. However, it was on July 30 that the actual design of the stamp was officially revealed, shown nearby with its distinctive new purple frame.
According to its press release, “The Postal Service continues to honor the sacrifices of the men and women who serve in the U.S. military with the issuance of the Purple Heart Medal 2019 stamp that depicts the medal suspended from its ribbon.
“This stamp is a redesign of the 2012 Purple Heart Medal stamp and features a purple border matching the brilliant purple of the medal and its ribbon. The type on the stamp — PURPLE HEART, FOREVER, USA — is displayed in red. Ira Wexler photographed the medal. William J. Gicker served as art director with Bryan A. Duefrene as designer.”
The USPS held a dedication ceremony for the stamp on October 4, as part of the annual Indypex World Series of Philately stamp show. The event took place at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds in Noblesville, Indiana. A number of veterans from the local area attended the event. APS President Robert Zeigler was a featured speaker during the dedication. USPS had a booth selling the stamp during Indypex.
APS member Foster Miller noted in the Delphi Stamp Collecting Forum that in addition to framing the design, the purple surround has a practical purpose to “support stamp affixing machines … Veterans’ charities frequently use [the stamp] on their mailings. However, stamp affixing machines have trouble with stamps with all white background. This is the same reason that the recent non-profit coil was reissued with a blue border,” Miller noted, referring to the (5¢) USA and Star die-cut self-adhesive coil stamp issued in April 2016 (Scott 5061) and the framed version that replaced it in 2017 (Scott 5172).”
The self-adhesive stamp will be the 11th collectible version of the design since the first 37¢ Purple Heart stamp was issued May 30, 2003, (Scott 3784).
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has an informative history of the medal itself available online at https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/celebrate/purple-heart.pdf.
“Introduced as the “Badge of Military Merit” by General George Washington in 1782, the Purple Heart is also the nation’s oldest military award. In military terms, the award had ‘broken service,’ as it was ignored for nearly 150 years until it was re-introduced on February 22, 1932, on the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. The medal’s plain inscription ‘FOR MILITARY MERIT’ barely expresses its significance…”
“On August 7, 1782, from his headquarters in Newburgh, New York, General George Washington wrote: … ‘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 . . . 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.’ ”
General Washington is pictured on the medal he created. Though not patterned after it, of the dozen 1932 bicentennial stamps with portraits of Washington, the portrait on the medal is most similar to that on the 8¢ olive bister stamp of 1932, Scott 713. The original illustration at the Library of Congress from which it was adapted, inscribed “The last portrait from life, 1798, age 66, Engr. by [Samuel] Hollyer after [Charles B.J.F.] St. Mémin.”
Despite this note, this may never have been intended as a “last portrait from life,” in that his depiction in uniform is an anachronism. Washington resigned his commission 16 years earlier on December 23, 1783.
America’s first medal was awarded to just three Connecticut veterans of the War of Independence. “For unknown reasons, the medal apparently was not awarded again.
“In fact, it was not until October 1927, after World War I, that General Charles Summerall proposed that a bill be submitted to Congress to revive the ‘Badge of Military Merit.’ In January, 1928, the Army’s Office of The Adjutant General was instructed to file the materials concerning the proposed medal. Among those materials was a rough drawing of a circular medal disc with a concave center on which a raised heart was visible. Engraved on the back of the medal was ‘For Military Merit.’
“In January 1931, General Douglas MacArthur, Summerall’s successor as Army Chief of Staff, resurrected the idea for the medal. Miss Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quartermaster General, was assigned the task of designing the medal according to some general guidelines provided to her. The Commission of Fine Arts obtained plaster models from three sculptors and, in May 1931, selected the model produced by John Ray Sinnock of the Philadelphia Mint.
Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur revived the long-forgotten Purple Heart General Washington had created in time for Washington’s bicentennial in 1932, when the first medal was presented to General MacArthur.
“On February 22, 1932 — the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth — the War Department (predecessor to the Department of Defense) announced the establishment of the Purple Heart award” by order of President Herbert Hoover.
The award became an entitlement for any soldier wounded in action. However, due to the heavy loss of life at Pearl Harbor, beginning April 28, 1942, the Purple Heart also was posthumously awarded to the families of those who had perished in the surprise attack, a practice made general by the War Department on May 2 of that year. Today the decoration “is awarded to those wounded or killed in action . . . An Oak Leaf Cluster is added when a previously wounded person already has a Purple Heart.”
An estimated 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded to date, including more than 1 million during World War II alone.