News

Battaglia Observes National Purple Heart Day, Acclaims Heroes

By Amaani Lyle
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2015 - In remarks at the National Purple Heart Ceremony at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate today, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff praised heroes across wars and eras who have exemplified bravery and endured incomprehensible peril.

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia stressed that the Purple Heart is a decoration of explicit distinction, recognizable not just to the American citizen, but to people around the world. "Many nations, militaries envy our culture and the dignified manner that we hold to our fallen, but also how we recognize and care for our wounded," he said.

 

The event at the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Auditorium within the 400-acre Potomac riverfront estate commemorated the Purple Heart honor, which began as Washington's creation during the Revolutionary War.

*Purple Heart's Storied History*

Washington established the Badge of Military Merit on Aug. 7, 1782, and at that time, only three revolutionary war soldiers earned the decoration, Battaglia explained. "So while extremely rare, it was never abolished," he said.

The next proposal came Oct. 10, 1927, after World War I, when then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Pelot Summerall directed delivery of a bill to Congress in order to resuscitate the badge.

"The bill had been withdrawn, and during January of 1928, any momentum on the case ceased," Battaglia said.

Later, the new chief of staff, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, reopened work on a new design involving the Washington Commission of Fine Arts. Military officials selected Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quartermaster General, to redesign the badge into what's now known as the Purple Heart.

Battaglia said nearly 2 million uniformed men and women have been decorated with the award since WWI.

*A Personal Story*

In August 2005, the Purple Heart became Battaglia's personal reality during the first of two yearlong combat tours in the Middle East, when he was injured in a small town outside of Fallujah, Iraq.

"While the incident itself was certainly traumatic ... what I found just as challenging ... was forcing myself to get back in the saddle," he said.

Battaglia said he believes he's alive today thanks to the training and tactical advice of his unit leaders who served, fought, and survived -- and even the legacies of those who lie across the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

"They have displayed the ultimate sacrifice to our country," the sergeant major said of the fallen. "They, too, wear this Purple Heart, symbolizing the bravery, patriotism and courage -- key attributes and principles that our Armed Forces were founded upon."

Battaglia recounted the story of Army Sgt. Maj. Donald Sparks, who sustained injuries from a landmine explosion in 2005. "[Sparks] said his uncle, a combat vet himself, expressed emphatically that, 'this is the one damn medal you don't want to try and earn,'" he said.

Battaglia said a young soldier, Army Pfc. Joseph Knott, did not survive the bomb blast that injured Sparks.

"Sparks tells his soldiers and others ... not to be enamored with the medal on his chest, as it serves as the etched-in-stone reminder of the young troop he lost that day," Battaglia said. "The Purple Heart was no longer just a symbol of injury or death to Sergeant Major Sparks -- rather a badge of honor and resilience, which afforded him an opportunity to talk about the sacrifices of the brave men and women and his personal challenge to return to duty."

Battaglia also acknowledged the tens of thousands of U.S. troops today who still survive and endure in trenches around the world.

"While the Purple Heart represents courage, bravery, patriotism to the [people] who wear it, it also symbolizes resilience for the families who are there to serve as the backbone and the springboard for the wounded warrior on the road to recovery," Battaglia said. "The Purple Heart is our oldest standing military decoration, and the nature of our business to ensure our country's freedom will likely cause the Purple Heart to be our longest-standing military decoration."