Are New Purple Hearts Being Manufactured to Meet the Demand?
The decoration, which goes to American troops wounded in battle and the families of those killed in action, had been only one of countless thousands of supplies produced for the planned 1945 invasion of Japan, which military leaders believed would last until almost 1947.
Fortunately, the invasion never took place. All the other implements of that war -- tanks and LSTs, bullets and K-rations -- have long since been sold, scrapped or used up, but these medals, struck for their grandfathers, are still being pinned on the chests of young soldiers.
Remarkably, some 120,000 Purple Hearts are still in the hands of the Armed Services and are not only stocked at military supply depots, but also kept with major combat units and at field hospitals so they can be awarded without delay.
But although great numbers of the World War II stock are still ready for use, the recent production of 9,000 new copies was ordered for the most simple of bureaucratic reasons. So many medals had been transferred to the Armed Services that the government organization responsible for supplying them had to replenish its own inventory.
In all, approximately 1,506,000 Purple Hearts were produced for the war effort with production reaching its peak as the Armed Services geared up for the invasion of Japan. Despite wastage, pilfering and items that were simply lost, the number of decorations was approximately 495,000 after the war.
By 1976, roughly 370,000 Purple Hearts had been earned by servicemen and women who fought in Americas Asian wars, as well as trouble spots in the Middle East and Europe. This total included a significant number issued to World War II and even World War I veterans whose paperwork had finally caught up with them or who filed for replacement of missing awards.
It was at this point that the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia (DSCP) found that its decades-old stock of Purple Hearts had dwindled to the point that it had to be replenished.
The organization ordered a small number of medals in 1976 to bolster the "shelf worn" portions of the earlier production still retained by the Armed Services at scattered locations around the globe. It wasnt long, however, before an untouched warehouse load of the medal was rediscovered after falling off the books. The DSCP suddenly found themselves in possession of nearly 125,000 more Purple Hearts.
Increasing terrorist activity in the late 1970s and 80s resulted in mounting casualties among service personnel and a decision was made to inspect and refurbish all of the remaining stock. Fully 4,576 of the 124,588 medals stored in the Pennsylvania warehouse were deemed to be too costly to bring up to standards and were labeled "unsalvageable." The remaining decorations were refurbished and repackaged between 1985 and 1991.
Demand for the item was high. By the end of 1999, most of the refurbished medals had been shipped to other government customers and the DSCP entered into contracts for the first large-scale production of Purple Hearts since World War II.
Veterans of World War II were keenly interested in the new development, particularly those who had worked with the Smithsonian Institution on the 50th Anniversary display of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima. Controversy had erupted over the Smithsonians presentation at the National Air and Space Museum, when veterans protested that the multimedia display and exhibit script was crafted in a way that portrayed the Japanese as victims, and not instigators, of the war.
The veterans were heavily criticized in some academic circles for their insistence that the dropping of the atom bomb had ended the war quickly and ultimately saved countless thousands of American -- and Japanese -- lives during an invasion.
When hearing of the new production, Jim Pattillo, then president of the 20th Air Force Association stated that, "detailed information on the kind of casualties expected would have been a big help in demonstrating to modern Americans that those were very different times."
Medical and training information in "arcanely worded military documents can be confusing," said Pattillo, "but everyone understands a half-million Purple Hearts."
Gary Hoebecke is one of the soldiers who received Purple Hearts during service in Vietnam for wounds suffered in 1965, 1968 and 1969. The retired lieutenant colonel was amazed that the decades-old medals are still being used.
"With all the waste and screw-ups," said Hoebecke, "its quite remarkable that they have kept track of that stock and are still using them."
When told that 125,000 had effectively been lost until after the Vietnam War, Hoebecke laughed. "Now thats the Army I know!" he said, adding, "Im glad we didnt have to use them."
But perhaps the most poignant appreciation came from a fellow Vietnam vet who learned for the first time that he had received a medal minted for the grandfathers of he and his buddies. "I will never look at my Purple Heart the same way again," he said.
This article draws on material first published by the authors in a piece written for American Heritage,"Half a Million Purple Hearts."
comments powered by Disqus
NYGuy - 12/8/2003
In a strange way, the person who wrote the headline provides further proof that dropping the bomb on Japan was the correct thing to do. As December 7 shows we did not start the fight with Japan, which at the time was the most brutal military force in the world, and one which did not hesitate to kill civilians. Vietnam was child’s play compared to the atrocities committed by the Japanese during this period.
The U. S. paid a high price in human lives and misery because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This is where the person who wrote the headline makes a strong case that dropping the bomb was the correct thing to do as was pointed out in this fine article by Professors Giangreco and Kathryn Moore.
In the headline we are shown that PH’s are not just manufactured without reason, but like any good businessman the U. S. Military must make a detailed assessment of the expected casualties, and the level of inventories on hand, before they put in there order for more PH’s before an invasion.
As the authors have so clearly pointed out the “expected demand for PH’s” was staggering if we would have invaded Japan.
"In all, approximately 1,506,000 Purple Hearts were produced for the war effort with production reaching its peak as the Armed Services geared up for the invasion of Japan. Despite wastage, pilfering and items that were simply lost, the number of decorations was approximately 495,000 after the war."
As we read this paragraph we see very clearly the concerns the US military had about the invasion of Japan and concluded that “demand” for the PH would be between 495,000 to perhaps 600,000 American dead or wounded. This is a powerful argument that dropping the bomb was not only the correction military action against an invading force, but it was also a humanain act to stop further civilian atrocities by Japan, and unnecessary death and wounding of our US military.
I must admit I overreacted when in a prior post. I now see that HNN understood clearly that dropping the bomb on Japan was the right thing to do and made a strong contribution to our understanding of its use by clarifying what the article said about the concerns of our military leaders in the “demand” for PH’s and their decision to save American lives.
Thanks Steve for setting us straight on this fine article, and we should all thank the authors and HNN for bringing such clarity to this important issue. Perhaps now the younger generation will get a clearer picture of what was happening in World War II.
Steve Brody - 12/7/2003
Good point about the headline. The title is really out of sinc' with the content. I started the article with very different expectations than were realized.
NYGuy - 12/7/2003
Today is the anniversery of Pearl Harbor the sneak attack by the Japanese that began the war in the Pacific and killed and wounded millions of Americans. When one remembers this time they are reminded of the Bataam Death march, the bloody fighting for Pacific Islands and the brutual treatment that the Japanese were noted for in China and other lands they occupied.
Despite all the horror the Japanese inflicted on the world there are still bleeding hearts that sit in their comfortable little offices and feel sorry that more Amerians weren't killed so we could use up our inventory of PH's.
I wonder who the genius at HNN was who thought up the title for this article. We understand the title is not done by the Authors. Probably some little smart alex who learned about war on a computer machine.
For those to young to remember, the United States did not begin the war, they only ended the destruction and devastation inflicted on the world by the Japanese. And the US soldiers and their families paid a high prize for the Japanese treachery.
Francis E. Jeffery - 12/7/2003
It is interesting that with all the data used to prove the worth of the Atomic Bombs as a tactical weapon, no one has used the number of manufactured and ordered Purple Hearts as items that did not have to be used as the invasions were not needed. Plus the number of PH casualties would be a small portion of those normally injured in any large military action. In times past, the ratio of combat deaths to high way deaths were about 15 to 1.
Just for thoughts. Pr. Jeff
NYGuy - 12/6/2003
Thank you so much for getting me to read the article again. HNN’s headline threw me, which I personally felt disrespectful and in my opinion could only be written by an anti-war activist.
Are New Purple Hearts Being Manufactured to Meet the Demand?
I was confused by the Atomic bomb reference and did not know what to make of the following conclusion:
“ But perhaps the most poignant appreciation came from a fellow Vietnam vet who learned for the first time that he had received a medal minted for the grandfathers of he and his buddies. "I will never look at my Purple Heart the same way again," he said.”
I thought it was a respectful comment but with some of those who post on this board I could not be sure.
I am also happy to have this information for it reminds me of what we felt when the bomb was dropped. I have to admit I only think about the boys and girls that came home and the peace for our country. Some people forget we did not start the war. We only finished it.
steve Brody - 12/6/2003
I usually agree with you guys, but I think you missed it this time.
This is a story about 500,000 purple hearts that were not issued because of the A-bomb. Look at the Author's curriculum vitae. These guys are Truman historians. This is about the rectitude of dropping the A-bomb
NYGuy - 12/4/2003
Right on Dave.
Dave Livingston - 12/3/2003
Why, one wonders, was this essay considered worth posting on HNN? As far as government spending goes, the cost for these 9,000 medls isn't much. It isn't that they'll be wasted. Eventually they'll be utilized, whether within five years or within fifty-five.
Because in the essay there is the implication of huge numbers of casualities to come in the war against terrorism, the essay appears to be politically motivated. Even, so, it offers some evidence of support for the Truman Administration's decisions to drop the two atomic bombs upon Japan--to foreshorten the war by at least two years and to preclude tens, if nut hundreds, of thousands more U.S., as well as Japanese, casualities.
- New PBS DVD From Henry Louis Gates Jr. Explores African Influence on the Caribbean
- The Council on Foreign Relations Honors Kissinger Critic
- Architectural historian discovers Chartres Cathedral has started faking it
- Rick Perlstein hits back at a critic of his book on Reagan
- So Historians Are Surprised by What DNA Can Tell Us?