240 years ago, on August 7, 1782,
General George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit. An award open to only enlisted men, Washington intended this award to be permanent within the newly founded United States military. Unfortunately, the Badge of Military Merit was all but forgotten after the Revolutionary War until the 20th century. In 1918 General Pershing (yes, the General the Pershing tank is named after) pushed for a military merit award. In 1932, the bicentennial year of Washington's birth, the modern-day Purple Heart was created by General McArthur. Originally the Purple Heart was only for Army and Army Air Corps until 1942, when President Roosevelt authorized the Purple Heart for all branches. Roosevelt also authorized the Purple Heart to be posthumously awarded to any member of the Armed Forces wounded or killed after December 6, 1941.
"... By order of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart, established by General George Washington at Newburgh, August 7, 1782, during the War of the Revolution is hereby revived out of respect to his memory and military achievements."--General McArthur
I'm sure Washington, McArthur, or Roosevelt could not have imagined the number of service members who'd earned the Purple Heart from 1941-1945.
80 years ago, on August 7, 1942,
The dramatic and surprising American victory 64 days earlier at Midway completely transformed the direction of the Pacific War. Moreover, the boosted morale of the American people put the war effort into hyper-drive.
Navy Chief of Staff Ernest J King pressed his colleagues to authorize a counteroffensive in the Pacific to regain American initiative following six months of endless Japanese conquests in Indonesia and the Western Pacific.
The target picked--an amphibious assault on the Island of Guadalcanal, where the Japanese were constructing a vast airfield.
Located near the bottom of the 600-mile-long Solomon Islands chain, the 90-mile long, 30-mile-deep Guadalcanal was strategically placed for the Japanese to try to cut sea supply lines from the US to Australia. Moreover, if Allied Forces could seize the airfield, Guadalcanal could be a staging base to support General Douglas MacArthur's planned offensive up the coast of New Guinea on the long road to Tokyo.
Assembling the 1st Marine Division, August 7 is "D-Day" for Guadalcanal.
This is the first American counteroffensive of the entire World War after suffering a string of American losses in the Pacific, and the German U-boat campaign, which inflicted devastating losses off the American East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
Landing unopposed on the north coast of Guadalcanal, the US Marines found the Japanese engineering units had fled westward to the hills abandoning the half-finished airfield when they discovered the Americans were landing.
But the Japanese did not abandon the island.
In days they will launch their own counterattacks on land and sea. Tokyo will eventually devote massive naval, air, and land forces in an attempt to retake the airfield.
What seemed to the Americans like a surprisingly easy victory on August 7 turned into a five-month campaign for control of the island—involving two carrier battles, several surface naval battles, and a kaleidoscope of land clashes for control of the airfield.
At the campaign's end, Americans take control of Guadalcanal. Each side lost two dozen warships, including battleships and aircraft carriers, along with hundreds of aircraft, and suffered thousands of soldier and Marine casualties.
The jungle island is marked as one of the epic campaigns of American military history lore.
And the U.S.Marine Corps motto "First to fight" rang true as the 1st Marine Division led the first American counterattack against the Axis in WWII.
Over a million service members were awarded the Purple Heart for their service in WWII. Read some of their Stories of Valor
A BIG thank you to my dear friend and military history guru, Brett Kepley. I met Brett on a WWII tour throughout Europe in 2019. We became fast friends, and he remains my go-to for collaboration on Civil and WWII military history.