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Are Purple Hearts from 1945 still being awarded?

In 1945, the U.S. military expected up to 1 million casualties in the invasion of Japan, so the services stocked up on Purple Hearts. But Japan surrendered after the atomic bombings and Soviet invasion of Manchuria, leaving the services with hundreds of thousands of Purple Hearts that were no longer needed.

One reader asked The Rumor Doctor if Purple Hearts from 1945 are still being awarded to troops today. One historian says yes.

“Time and combat will continue to erode the WW II stock, but it's anyone’s guess how long it will be before the last Purple Heart for the invasion of Japan is pinned on a young soldier’s chest,” said D.M. Giangreco, said in an e-mail.

A defense official was less certain, but she acknowledged it is possible.

As late as 1985, the Defense Logistics Agency still had about 120,000 refurbished Purple Heart sets dating back to World War II, said DLA spokeswoman Mimi Schirmacher.

“There could be a small number of WWII-era medal sets still in the hands of military service customers and it is possible that recent and current issues of medals were made from stock produced in previous time periods,” Schirmacher said in an e-mail.

The DLA has ordered about 34,000 Purple Hearts since 1976, of which 21,000 were ordered in 2008, she said.

But Giangreco, who wrote a book about the planned invasion of Japan, maintains that the bulk of Purple Hearts in stock date back to World War II. His research found that most of the refurbished Purple Hearts were sent to military depots, units and hospitals between 1985 and 1999.

Since then, about 4,400 troops have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and about 40,000 troops wounded, according to the latest Defense Department figures. Veterans are also regularly being awarded the Purple Heart retroactively, according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

While Giangreco did not know the number of veterans who have been awarded the Purple Heart over the past 10 years, based on government figures, he estimated it is still less than the number of remaining World War II-era Purple Hearts.

Purple Hearts from World War II had different ribbons than medals built nowadays, but the refurbished Purple Hearts have been given new ribbons to put them in line with current requirements, making the old and new awards look almost identical, Giangreco said.

“You are talking about minute types of differences where only a specialist, somebody who really looks at this stuff, and looks at it often, can tell,” he said.

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: It sounds like Purple Hearts from World War II are still ready to be awarded to troops wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. We can only hope the services will need as few of them as possible.

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