Seventy-four years ago this week two atomic bombs, known as Little Boy and Fat Man, were dropped on two Japanese cities.
The first, Little Boy, was a uranium-based weapon dropped from the B-29 Enola Gay piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets on August 6, 1945. An estimated 90% of the city was wiped out along with the lives of approximately 80,000 souls.
The second bombing took place on August 9, 1945. Major Charles Sweeney piloted the B-29 Bockscar, but discovered their primary target, Kokura, obscured by cloud-cover and diverted to his secondary target, the city of Nagasaki. The atomic bomb, Fat Man, was a plutonium-based device and much more powerful than Little Boy. However, Nagasaki was nestled in narrow valleys between mountains, which reduced the bomb’s effect to a destructive area approximately 2.6 square miles. Still, over 40,000 people perished.
Once detonated, thousands of people simply vaporized. Their shadows were burnt into concrete walkways and steps. Those shadows still exist today as a reminder of a destructive power that hopefully will never have to be used again.
As the saying goes, “There will be no veterans of WWIII.”
Albeit, the horrors of the atomic age ended the horrors of the Second World War, yet controversy still rages today on the morality of the decision made by President Truman to use such dreadful weapons.
In reality, President Truman had little choice. “Downfall,” the planned invasion of the Japanese homeland, was scheduled to begin on December 1, 1945 with the invasion of the southern island of Kyushu, codenamed “Olympic.” The second primary invasion, codenamed “Coronet,” was scheduled for the main island of Honshu, which included the cities of Yokohama and Tokyo, on March 1, 1946.
As horrific as the suffering from two atomic bombs may seem, the planned invasion of Japan would have been a slaughter on both sides. One million American casualties were projected; 10 to 20 million Japanese fatalities were anticipated. Japanese women, some mere teenagers, were being trained to assault the Americans using long poles with knives and other jagged instruments attached to one end. Small midget submarines and thousands of Japanese suicide airplanes were cubby-holed to repel the invasion. Their targets, along with aircraft carriers and other major combat ships, included the crammed troop ships. Thousands of American soldiers would never have set a foot on Japanese soil.
Late in the war, an order was given for the manufacture of 1.5 million Purple Hearts. The reason? The upcoming invasion of Japan. Consider the scope of the pain and suffering that made it necessary to preorder 1.5 million Purple Hearts.
The Purple Heart. The medal has its own story, and this is it.
Ever wonder why a bust of George Washington is represented on the Purple Heart? Because the man who allegedly chopped down the cherry tree, as Commander of the Continental Army, established the first Purple Heart, identified as the Badge of Military Merit. Nevertheless, the Badge of Military Merit was not proposed again until after World War I.
On October 10, 1927, Army Chief of Staff General Charles Summerall drafted a bill to Congress for the revival of the Badge of Military Merit. But the world, and America, had changed, and forgotten. Congress failed to approve the proposal. Apparently, even back then, there were jerks in Congress.
On January 7, 1931, General Summerall’s successor ordered work to begin on a new medal with a new design. A women named Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist attached to the Office of Quartermaster General, created the design sketch for the new medal, and called it the Purple Heart. The design and new Purple Heart medal was issued on the bicentennial birthday of George Washington. General Summerall’s successor who ordered the new medal was none other than General Douglas MacArthur.
There is confusion and debate on when the Purple Heart was actually awarded for “wounds only” in combat with an enemy. In my forthcoming book, “Fights Like a Girl,” one of the warrior women featured served with valor and distinction as a nurse during the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was awarded the Purple Heart. Thing is, she was never wounded. The Purple Heart was rescinded. She did, however, receive a Bronze Star in its place. According to my research, the qualification for a Purple Heart was changed in 1942 to “wounded by enemy action only.”
Thing is, Pulitzer Prize journalist, beloved war correspondent, and civilian Ernie Pyle, was awarded a Purple Heart upon his death on the island of le Shima just off the coast of Okinawa. The year was 1945. Rules and qualifications be damned in certain cases, as with journalist and civilian Joe Galloway, who was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery during the Vietnam War.
So who, and what, now qualifies for a Purple Heart?
The military only. And the individual has to be wounded or killed in action against an enemy of the United States. Or, any action with an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which the armed forces of the United States are, or have been, engaged. Also, if American military personnel are wounded in combat while assigned to a friendly foreign force in which the United States is not engaged with their enemy, they too are qualified for a Purple Heart.
The least amount of Purple Hearts, 607, were awarded during the Persian Gulf War. The largest amount of Purple Hearts to be awarded, 1,076,245, were awarded during WWII.
After WWII, even if possible to account for the Purple Hearts that were lost, stolen, or wasted, a staggering 500,000 still remained in inventory. Take into account the Korean War, Vietnam, and several brushfire incidents, and by the year 2,000, 120,000 Purple Hearts remained in stock.
To qualify for a Purple Heart, a soldier must: Be injured by an enemy-related bullet, shrapnel, enemy-placed land mines, naval mines, or traps. Injury caused by chemical, biological, or nuclear agents, injury caused by enemy fire on a vehicle or aircraft, or enemy generated explosions that cause concussion, as in head-related injury.
What does not qualify a soldier for a Purple Heart: Frostbite, heat stroke, battle fatigue; accidents not related to enemy activity, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and parachute jump injuries not caused by enemy action.
“Friendly Fire” accidents do not qualify a soldier for a Purple Heart. However, there is a stipulation: If the ‘friendly fire’ was released with the full intent to destroy or damage enemy troops or equipment, or if the soldier was wounded by friendly fire in close-quarter combat, as in hand-to-hand combat.
Military animals are not eligible for a Purple Heart. However (here we go with another “however”), however, a horse named Sgt. Reckless of Korean War fame, and a stray mutt named Sgt. Stubby of WWI fame, both received the Purple Heart for wounds received in action. They did so, because the horse and the stray mutt held official rank in the U.S. military.
Notable recipients of the Purple Heart:
♦ Senator and Presidential candidate John Kerry received three Purple Hearts in Vietnam as commander of a river swift boat. All three recommendation came from John Kerry himself. Like the man, or dislike him, one Purple Heart was awarded for a wound received in an enemy-held area the swift boats never visited. Draw your own conclusions, the arguments, debates, and accusations still rage today.
♦ Remember Dan Blocker, who played “Hoss” on the TV hit series Bonanza? Dan was a Purple Heart recipient.
♦ Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavidez is featured in my first book; he received five Purple Hearts. In one action, Benavidez was wounded 37 times. When receiving the Medal of Honor from President Ronald Reagan in a delayed ceremony, the president turned to the Press Corps and said, “If his story was made into a movie, nobody would believe it.”
♦ NFL fans will remember Pittsburgh Steeler running back Rocky Bleier. Rocky is a Purple Heart recipient.
♦ Actors Dale Dye, Charles Durning, and James Garner, all are Purple Heart recipients. James Garner received two. Actors Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, and screenwriter Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, are all Purple Heart recipients.
♦ The writer, James Joyce, is a Purple Heart recipient.
♦ Senator Bob Dole was a WWII Purple Heart recipient.
♦ Movie director Oliver Stone (“Platoon”) and General Norman Schwarzkoph of Desert Storm fame, were awarded the Purple Heart, both from the War in Vietnam.
You may not recognize the names, but these three soldiers are in a category all by themselves:
♦ Charles Barger, U.S. Army in WWII, William White, U.S. Army in WWII and Korea, and Curry Haynes, U.S. Army in Vietnam, are all recipients of 10 Purple Hearts!
♦ Remember James Arness who played Sheriff Matt Dillon on the TV series Gunsmoke? His deputy, Chester Good, played by the actor Dennis Weaver, walked with a bad limp due to a wooden leg. That was fiction, and Weaver did a great job without any braces or props. However, Arness, dba Sheriff Matt Dillon, did walk with a limp but kept the obvious stagger well-concealed. Arness was critically injured on Anzio Beach in Italy during WWII and almost died. He, too, is a Purple Heart recipient.
♦ And now, the actor Charles Bronson. Well, his Hollywood bio, basically propaganda, and several research sites, claim Bronson was a gunner on an aircraft in WWII, shot down in enemy aircraft, and was wounded in combat, therefore, he received the Purple Heart. Dig deep into government records and they tell another story, although government records can and have erred, but apparently Mr. Bronson drove a food truck to base exchanges in Arizona during WWII and never left the states.
The Purple Heart. Veterans are members of a very special club, open to qualified members only, those who have earned the designation of an American military ‘veteran.’ There are other special clubs, too, like the Military Order of Purple Heart. They, indeed, have earned their membership the hard way. National Purple Heart Day is held each Aug. 7. May God bless our Purple Heart recipients.
Allow me to recite an old soldier’s prayer:
I have fought when others feared to serve.
I have gone where others failed to go.
I’ve lost friends in war and strife.
Who valued duty more than love of life.
I have shared the comradeship of pain.
I have searched the lands for men that we have lost.
I have sons who served this land of liberty.
Who would fight to see that other stricken lands are free.
I have seen the weak forsake humanity.
I have heard the traitors praise our enemy.
I’ve seen challenged men become even bolder.
I’ve seen the duty, honor, and sacrifice of the soldier.
Now I understand the meaning of our lives.
The loss of comrades not so very long ago.
So to you who have answered duties siren call.
May God bless you my son, may God bless you all.
I will close with a straightforward quote by Lillian Hellman:
“Most people coming out of war feel lost and resentful. What had been a minute-to-minute confrontation with yourself, your struggle with what courage you have against discomfort, at the least, and death at the other end, ties you to the people you have known in the war, and makes for a time others seem alien and frivolous.”