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Book Review – For Military Merit: Recipients of the Purple Heart

By Fred L. Borch; Naval Institute Press; 351 pages

Special operations troops and military service members caught up in terrorist attacks are among more than one million Americans who’ve received the Purple Heart.

“While more than one million men and women have been awarded the Purple Heart, no book devoted exclusively to recipients of the medal has ever been published.”

While the original criteria specified that the award be given to those wounded in action “against an enemy of the United States,” more recently the Purple Heart has been given to men and women wounded by a “hostile foreign force” or in “international terrorist attacks.”

Fred L. Borch

Fred L. Borch was a U.S. Army lawyer for 25 years and is now the regimental historian and archivist for the U. S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps. In addition to For Military Merit: Recipients of the Purple Heart, Borch is the author of Sea Service Medals and other books. Photo courtesy of Fred L. Borch

To cite an early example from the post-Cold War age of irregular warfare, the Army awarded 188 Purple Hearts to soldiers killed or wounded in Somalia between December 1992 and March 1995. Included were Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. First Class Randall Shugart, Delta Force snipers in a joint-force assault to nab advisers to a Somali warlord. Volunteering to be inserted into the midst of heavily armed insurgents to assist a downed helicopter crew, Gordon and Shugart lost their lives. Each also received, posthumously, the Medal of Honor. They are among many recipients of higher awards who also earned the Purple Heart.

For Military Merit: Recipients of the Purple Heart (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010) by Fred L. Borch, a retired Army colonel, lawyer, and expert on awards, tells the individual stories of hundreds of recipients of the award from the American Revolution until today.

“I wrote it because almost every award of the Purple Heart is a fascinating story that deserves to be told.”

“While more than one million men and women have been awarded the Purple Heart, no book devoted exclusively to recipients of the medal has ever been published,” said Borch in a June 29 telephone interview. “This book is a first – because it focuses exclusively on recipients. I wrote it because almost every award of the Purple Heart is a fascinating story that deserves to be told.”

The now-familiar award began as a purple-in-color, heart-shaped cloth badge created by Gen. George Washington during the American Revolution. It was awarded only a few times before the Continental Army was disbanded. Thereafter, the award was forgotten for the next 150 years. Then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur resurrected the award “for military merit” in 1932. Once it was revived, some awards of the Purple Heart were made for merit, but by the middle of World War II the decoration was given only to combat wounded.

For Military Merit: Recipients of the Purple Heart

For Military Merit: Recipients of the Purple Heart, by Fred L. Borch; Naval Institute Press; 351 pages

Borch points out that it would be impossible to write about every recipient of the award, but he covers about two hundred. Included in personal stories in this book are other Medal of Honor recipients like Audie Murphy and Lewis Lee Millett, generals like Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf. Sports figures like Warren Spahn and Hank Bauer, and celebrities like Lee Marvin and James Garner.

For Military Merit is an excellent history of the Purple Heart and a welcome compendium of tales of recipients.

At a time when our wounded service members are very much on our minds, For Military Merit is an excellent history of the Purple Heart and a welcome compendium of tales of recipients.

By

Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...