Honoring A Hero: The Purple Heart

/ Art News - In the Community

"Purple Heart" (1932) Designed by Elizabeth Will, American (1899-1975), Modeled by John R. Sinnock, American (1888-1947). Gilt bronze, enamel, and silk. Gift of the family of Kelly Ingram. 1967.250.2.
“Purple Heart” (1932) Designed by Elizabeth Will, American (1899-1975), Modeled by John R. Sinnock, American (1888-1947). Gilt bronze, enamel, and silk. Gift of the family of Kelly Ingram. 1967.250.2.

On August 7, 1782, General George Washington awarded three soliders the “Badge of Military Merit,” which consisted of a purple silk badge stitched with the word “merit” surrounded by a laurel wreath. According to legend, the original Purple Hearts were designed by Washington himself, and cut and sewn by Martha Washington with fabric given to her husband by the Marquis de Lafayette.

On February 22, 1932, Washington’s two-hundredth birthday, President Herbert Hoover revived the Purple Heart, a long-defunct military order. Redesigned with Washington’s image and the coat of arms of the Washington family, the Purple Heart is now awarded in the name of the President to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces wounded or killed in action.

This example was posthumously accorded to 30-year-old Osmond Kelly Ingram of Pratt City, Alabama, the first enlisted man killed in action in World War I. A sailor in the U.S. Navy, Ingram was killed when a torpedo from a German submarine struck his ship off the coast of Ireland on October 16, 1917. Ingram had spotted the torpedo, and was killed while attempting to jettison the ship’s ammunition in order to lessen the damage to the vessel.

Kelly Ingram
Kelly Ingram

For his bravery, Ingram was also awarded the Medal of Honor and the Italian War Cross. The destroyer USS Osmond Ingram was named in his honor in 1919, and Birmingham’s West Park was rededicated as Kelly Ingram Park in 1932.