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Who Is the Only President to Receive a Purple Heart?

Written by Everett Bledsoe / Fact checked by Brain Bartell

who is the only president to receive a purple heart

You might know the Purple Heart as a very honorable award that certain military members may receive, and this Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the U.S President.

But did you know who is the only President to receive a Purple Heart? Can you guess which of the 46 Presidents was presented with the one and only Purple Heart? The answer may surprise you! It’s President John. F Kennedy, U.S’s 35th President.

Now that you know the name of the only President recipient of the Purple Heart, you may also be interested in learning how and why he was awarded the Purple Heart. We will reveal his story below, so go ahead and continue reading!

The Only President to Receive a Purple Heart


Before we go into the details of the only President who has received a Purple Heart, let’s revisit what a Purple Heart is.

What is a Purple Heart

The Purple Heart is a military medal. It is awarded to military members who were wounded or killed during service on or after the 5th of April, 1917. The Purple Heart is the oldest military medal that is still given to military members in the U.S Armed Forces.

Brief History

It was established by George Washington as the Badge of Military Merit on the 7th of August, 1872, when Washington was the Continental Army’s commander-in-chief. During this time, it was awarded to just three Revolutionary War soldiers.

In 1931, it was re-designed and re-named “Purple Heart” and re-issued on Washington’s 200th birth anniversary. During the Second World War era, the Purple Heart was awarded to wounded personnel with valid identification of circumstances. After re-authorization in 1932, it was also awarded to some personnel wounded from conflicts before the First World War: the Civil War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American Wars, China Boxer Rebellion, Philippine insurrection, etc.

There is no official record of how many Purple Hearts were awarded, but here is an estimation from the National Graphic November 2009 Edition:

Name of Conflict Number of Purple Hearts Awarded (Estimated)
World War 320,518
World War II 1,076,245
Korean War 118,650
Vietnam War 351,784
Persian Gulf War 607
Afghanistan War 12,534
Iraq War 35,411

The eligibility for the Purple Heart has been revised many times throughout history. Today, it is stated that any personnel in one of the U.S Armed Forces wounded or killed on or after April 5, 1917, would be awarded a Purple Heart (in the name of the President).

Examples of military service are:

  • action against an enemy
  • action against an opposing foreign armed force
  • action while serving with friendly foreign forces in armed conflict

Examples of “valid” injuries are:

  • bullet or shrapnel wounds
  • mine or trap wounds
  • explosion concussions

Examples of “invalid” injuries are:

  • frostbite
  • trench foot
  • food poisoning
  • battle fatigue
  • PTSD

Unlike other military medals and decorations, the Purple Heart recipient is entitled to it rather than recommended for it.

As suggested in the name, it is a purple heart-shaped medal. There is a gold border and a shield of George Washington’s coat of arms above the heart. The shield itself is white, accompanied by two red bars and three red stars. Here is a photo of what the Purple Heart looks like:

Who is The Only President with A Purple Heart

Now that you know a bit about the Purple Heart as a military medal, let’s look into the President who received a purple heart. As we mentioned earlier, it is President John F. Kennedy!

Brief Background

John F. Kennedy (JFK) was the 35th U.S President, and he was assassinated near the end of his third term in 1963. Before he was President, Kennedy was a Democrat representing Massachusetts in Congress.

And even before that, he was a Harvard University graduate in the U.S Naval Reserve (1941). He was particularly active during the Second World War, where he commanded a series of motorized torpedo boats (PT), including the PT-59, PT-98, PT-99, PT-101, and PT-109. And eventually, he retired on physical disability at the full rank of lieutenant in 1945.

Detailed Story of President John F. Kennedy Purple Heart

It was during the command of PT-109 that he sustained an injury and was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart. The story goes like this:

  • Kennedy and his PT-109 crew were deployed to combat near the Solomon Islands in July 1943.
  • On August 2, they were struck by a Japanese destroyer. Their boat burned up and several shipmates were flung into the burning oil sea.
  • Kennedy rescued three of his crew by diving into the water and they clung onto the wreck for some 12 hours. In this process, he severely injured his back.
  • Ultimately, he ordered them to leave the ship. He pushed and towed a makeshift raft for his injured crew to a nearby island.
  • On the island, Kennedy and his crew waited for six days, surviving on coconut milk and rain water.
  • He was awarded both the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart on June 12, 1944, while he was in a hospital recovering from a back surgery.

The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is an octagonal medal with an eagle on a fouled anchor and a globe underneath along the inscription HEROISM. The medal as a whole suspends from a blue, gold, and crimson ribbon.

The Purple Heart is a heart decoration with George Washington’s profile in purple enamel and a gold border. The medal as a whole suspends from a purple silk ribbon bordered by white. On top of the heart is Washington’s Coat of Arms (1 white shield + 2 horizontal red bars + 3 red stars + sprays of green leaves). On the other side, there is a raised bronze heart and the inscription FOR MILITARY MERIT.

The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is on the left and the Purple Heart is on the right.


As you have read, the answer to “Who is the only President to receive a Purple Heart?” is John F. Kennedy, who was awarded it alongside the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on June 12, 1944.

Hopefully, you have picked up the information you need. But if you have any other questions, do not hesitate to reach out to us in the comments below. We would also really appreciate it if you’d share this article with other readers, such as your family and friends!

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