Family Stories: August 7, 2021 – National Purple Heart Day

National Purple Heart Day – August 7, 2021

Purple Heart Day commemorates the creation of our military’s oldest American military decoration… first created for military merit during the American Revolutionary War… the Badge for Military Merit was awarded and decorated six soldiers during that war.

I’d like to honor my uncle “Edgar “Leroy” McKinley” on this day and my husband’s grandfather “Giuseppe “Joe” Cambino“.

Edgar “Leroy” McKinley

My uncle, “Edgar “Leroy” McKinley”, was killed in action on Feb. 19, 1945, of which he received his declaration posthumously. I can’t even imagine how hard it was for his commander, Lt. Mecklem to write my grandparents a few months later – even harder for them to receive such a letter of condolence from their son’s unit commander. A few words from that letter: “There is very little that I can say about his death on Feb. 19, 1945. He was killed by an enemy rifleman as we were cleaning out a woods – a few miles inside Germany. He died instantly and endured no suffering at all.” Sad to imagine how many letters he wrote during those long months of fighting.

Purple Heart award to family of Edgar “Leroy” McKinley


Giuseppe “Joe” Cambino… better known as “Buddy” the barber

Steve’s grandfather saw combat with Co. L. 102nd Infantry Reg of the 26th “Yankee” Division at Chemin-des AEF Dames Sector, Aisne Front, and the Battle of Seicheprey, where he was wounded on June 10th, 1918. Upon returning home, Joe opened his own business and Buddy’s Barber Shop was where he spent his days. It seemed to not have been known in the family that Joe had received a Purple Heart… until I learned from his son Frank. He told me that while one day at his father’s barber shop, he opened a cabinet in the back room and there the Purple Heart lay inside. If only there had been more conversation! The barber shop was sold when Buddy retired, and all seemed to have been left behind… no one knows what happened to the medal. There was this certificate (below) that always hung in Joe’s house… awarded to him upon being wounded in WWI. After reading the history on this certificate… often the service members were were sent a Purple Heart in later years. So possible, upon receiving the medal, he showed no anyone… instead humbly laying it on the shelf in his barber shop… not wanting to relive his war days.


World War I lithographic certificate, known as the “Lady Columbia Wound Certificate”, was awarded to Giuseppe Cambino, Pvt. Co. B., 102nd U.S. Infantry… depicting Columbia dressed in white, with a large billowing American flag behind her, knighting a uniformed soldier with bayonet kneeling in front of her… signature of Woodrow Wilson on bottom. World War I service members who already were awarded a lithograph became eligible for a Purple Heart in 1932.

This certificate was framed and hung in the home of Giuseppe Cambino for forever… with no one knowing that he had also received a Purple Heart medal… Grandpa Joe was very humble in speaking of his award.

Even though the Purple Heart award wasn’t created until after World War I, all military service members who were wounded after April 5, 1917 were eligible to receive the award.


A little history on The Purple Heart…

General George Washington was the creator of the Badge of Merit in 1782… an honor badge presented to soldiers for “any single merit action.” At that time, it was only a purple heart-shaped piece of silk with a thin edge of silver. The word “Merit” was embroidered in silver across the heart.

It was through the efforts of General Douglas MacArthur, that the U. S. War Department created the Purple Heart to what we see today. The medal created bears a bust of Gen. George Washington and his coat of arms.

General Douglas MacArthur received the first newly designed Purple Heart. The first woman to receive a Purple Heart was, Army Lt. Annie G. Fox, receiving for her actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In reading the history of the “Purple Heart”, I was astonished and sad, to learn that an accurate and complete list of names does not exist… there is only an estimate of nearly 1.9 million service members who have received. Up until 1944, the Purple Heart was still also given to service members for their commendable actions as well as those who gave their life. It was later in 1944, the requirements to earn the Purple Heart was limited to only those who were wounded or killed in combat.

While searching for more information on the “Lady Columbia Wound Certificate“, I found the site Purple Hearts Reunited. Their mission is to return lost, stolen and misplaced military medals of valor to veterans or their families, in order to honor their sacrifice to the nation. On this site you can enter missing medals… I entered Steve’s grandfather’s Purple Heart as missing.

The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor museum is located in New Windsor, N.Y., and are in the process of gathering names from family and friends to construct a record of all who were in honored in receiving a Purple Heart. If you have a family member, do take the time to ensure they are honored by being listed on their Honor Roll. Click HERE for the document in adding a veteran to the Honor Roll. I will be adding my uncle and Steve’s grandfather.

The Purple Heart still remains as the oldest U. S. military honor bestowed upon service members. Pending before Congress is the Private Corrado A. G. Piccolo Purple Heart Preservation Act. If passed, the Act will make it illegal for anyone other than the recipient to sell a Purple Heart Medal that has been awarded.


To read more Family Stories… click HERE

© 2021, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved

About Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

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