Purple Heart for Spanish American War Veterans
Contributed by Patrick McSherry

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The Purple Heart medal has a unique and surprising history. It is often pointed out that It is the oldest American military decoration, which is true in that it was instituted during the American Revolution. At that time it was a cloth insignia and issued for meritorious service, not specifically for being wounded. Also, only three were issued for service in the Revolution. Following the Revolution, the decoration was basically forgotten.

 Interest in the medal revived during World War One when it became apparent that other allied nations had a variety of military decorations for different levels of valor, where are the U.S. only had the Congressional Medal of Honor. Other medals were instituted but required such a level of heroism in combat that many believed an additional medal was needed. However, it was not until 1932 that the U.S. Army brought back the Purple Heart for those performing “any singular meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service.“ The orders also noted that a wound received in action that required treatment by a medical officer would be “construed as resulting from a singularly meritorious act of essential service." It was limited to men who served in the U.S. Army, not the U.S. Navy nor U.S. Marine Corps (though some did qualify by service with the AEF in World War One). Also, the medal was only issued to living individuals. It could not be awarded posthumously.

 The orders, however, allowed for the medal to be issued retroactively. Over 78,000 were issued, mainly to World War One veterans…but very few were issued to Spanish American War Veterans.

 With the start of World War Two, the requirements were changed so that the medal could be issued posthumously. By 1942, the Purple Heart became exclusively for those wounded or killed in action, and the award was also opened to those who served in Navy, Marines and Coast Guard in addition to the Army.

The front of the medal features the profile of George Washington,  below a small crest with red stars and  red bars on a white field, which is based on the crest of Washington's great-great-great-grandfather, Lawrence Washington of Sugrave Manor, Northamptonshire, England. The back includes the crest (without color) and the words  "For Military Merit." The recipient 's name is usually engraved below.

This particular medal was issued to Frederick G. Muenzing who served in the 16th U.S. Infantry, Co. C. He was wounded by  gunshot wound to the right side in the assault on San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898.

Below is a list of some of Spanish American War veterans who received the Purple Heart:

Seymour Addison
Herman W. Bensel
Fred W. Bugbee, 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry
William C. Everett, 1st Washington Volunteer Infantry, Co. A
Benjamin Gaskins, 10th U.S. Cavalry, Troop C
Charles E. Haley 22nd U.S. Infantry, Co. G
John Murphy
Gustave Meyer
Frederick G. Muenzing, 16th U.S. Infantry, Co. C
Rosario Ricciardelli, U.S.S. Baltimore
Fred Sprague, 17th U.S. Infantry, Co. F
John C. Whalen
John William Trimmer, 12th U.S. Infantry, Co. C


Borch, Fred L., "The Purple Heart – The Story of America’s Oldest Military Decoration and Some Soldier Recipients," Army Historical Foundation. https://armyhistory.org/the-purple-heart-the-story-of-americas-oldest-military-decoration-and-some-soldier-recipients/

“Col. F.W. Bugbee, Rough Rider Dies," New York Times. May 15, 1932, Section N, 5.

“Eighteen Veterans Honored for Distinguished War Service,” Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA). March 30, 1933, 13.

National Purple Heart Hall of Honor  - https://www.thepurpleheart.com/roll-of-honor/recipients/?name=&conflict=Spanish+American+War+1898&branch=  (Gaskins, Ricciardelli, Sprague, Trimmer)

"RARE Purple Heart group SPANISH AMERICAN WAR" https://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/28939-rare-purple-heart-group-spanish-american-war/ (Everett).

“Spanish War Veteran Awarded Purple Heart,” The Marion Star (Marion Ohio). November 24, 1952, 1. (Haley)

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