Who is the Only US President to Receive a Purple Heart?

Written by

John Cotton


Logan Miller

who is the only us president to receive a purple heart

The Purple Heart is one of the highest awards in the military. It is awarded to those who have shown remarkable bravery or sacrificed for their country.

Who is the only US president to receive a purple heart? John F. Kennedy, famously known as JFK, is the only president who was a recipient of the Purple Heart.

The article discusses what a Purple Heart award is, the life of the only US President awarded the Purple Heart, bringing attention to an unfamiliar side of presidential history and more.

If you are ready to continue, scroll below!

Overview of Purple Heart Award


1. Definition And History

The Purple Heart is presented to military members who have been seriously hurt, Prisoners of War, or soldiers killed by enemies in their line of duty.

It is the oldest service medal in the United States, too. In fact, the Purple Heart originated from the Badge of Military Merit – the first recognition awarded to any military member.

On August 7th, 1782, then-President George Washington introduced the Badge of Military Merit. His efforts created Washington’s portrait set to a gold medal hanging from a purple ribbon.

The Army Air Corps and the Army both first received the Purple Heart as a battle award. However, the criteria for receiving a Purple Heart have changed throughout history.

At present, we commemorate Purple Heart Day on August 7th. It is a national holiday to remember the bravery and service of our armed forces over the years.

2. Significance And Criteria For Receiving The Award

There are many circumstances in which a military member can be awarded the Purple Heart. But, not anyone can receive this honor, as there are certain criteria to quality the recipients.

This honor goes to military members who have lost their lives or been seriously injured in the line of duty.

If a military member is killed in action, their family will receive a Purple Heart instead.

In this context, line-of-duty actions include –

  1. Any attacks, such as international terrorist attacks by an enemy of the United States.
  2. Participation in a military war as a member of an ally foreign military.
  3. While being captured or is a prisoner of war while fighting a war.
  4. Supporting allied nations in their fight against enemies, the United States is not a direct enemy.

The Only US President to Receive a Purple Heart


So, which president received a Purple Heart medal? As mentioned, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the only president awarded the Purple Heart.

Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States, a position he held from January 1961 until his unfortunate passing in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.

John F. Kennedy enlisted in the U.S. Navy in World War II prior to becoming the 35th President of the United States. He joined the Navy in 1941 after Pearl Harbor was bombed.

How Did JFK Receive the Purple Heart Medal?


John F. Kennedy was a World War II hero. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his bravery.

The following events led him to receive both awards:

  1. On the evening of August 1, 1943, in the Solomon Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea, JFK experienced a life-changing accident on one of his Navy missions.
  2. JFK, a 25-year-old Naval Lieutenant, commanded a Patrol Torpedo (PT) boat with the seemingly difficult job of torpedoing Japanese ships. Their mission also includes patrolling at night and making supply runs to troops battling nearby for the allies.
  3. Unfortunately, a Japanese destroyer hit JFK’s PT-109 boat on August 2 while they were patrolling in the Solomon Islands. Their boat caught on fire, and a few crew members were thrown into the fiery sea.
  4. Despite being injured, Kennedy dragged critically burnt crew members in the dark, bringing them to safety as their boat capsized. Patrick Henry McMahon is one of the wounded crewmen that he rescued.
  5. Kennedy fearlessly swam towards an island three kilometers away with McMahon’s life jacket strap clenched between his teeth.
  6. After that, Kennedy and his crew were stranded on the island for six days, hoping for help. To get by, the sailors drank coconut water and rainfall until locals found them and were given a place to stay and food.
  7. Finally, a Navy patrol boat rescued JFK and his crew members a week later, on Aug. 8.

Although JFK was still healing, he received the Purple Heart for his injuries while serving the country and for his bravery in saving his crew members.

Besides receiving the Purple Heart medal, JFK was also awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. It is a decoration awarded by the Navy or Marine Corps for bravery without conflict against enemies.

This award honors people who put an act of extreme risk-taking where the person puts their own safety in danger.

Impact of the Event


The fact that John F. Kennedy was the first and only U.S. President ever awarded the Purple Heart is a notable historical footnote.

John F. Kennedy’s time in the Navy paved the way for his political success. He was considered an appealing political prospect.

His Navy service and bravery after the PT-109 event symbolize his loyalty to the nation and willingness to risk his life for a more significant cause.

Then, as written in history – he was the youngest man ever to be elected President, the 35th president of the United States.

There are many things that people remember about Kennedy’s administration. He made a way for the Civil Rights Movement to progress; founded the Peace Corps; and resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis.

He also wrote Profiles in Courage while recovering from his back surgery in 1955. He won a Pulitzer Prize for it.

Other Presidential Honors and Awards


In addition to the Purple Heart, the following are other recognitions and honors awarded to deserving individuals by the President of the United States:

Office of the President of the United States
Name of Award Criteria To Be Awarded For
Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction (Higher degree) People who have made important contributions to the safety and well-being of the United States; the promotion of global peace and culture; and other major events.
Presidential Medal of Freedom People who have made important contributions to the safety and well-being of the United States; the promotion of global peace and culture; and other major events.
Presidential Citizens Medal People who help the nation or others that show an example of excellence.
Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor People who put themselves at risk to help others, display excellent heroism.
President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service People who serve as officers or employees deserve more public appreciation. It can also be given by the department heads whom they are associated with.
National Medal of Arts People who have enhanced the arts in the U.S. in terms of quality, accessibility, development, and overall support.
National Humanities Medal It is given annually to individuals, or organizations who helped sustain and spread the understanding of humanities in the U.S.
National Medal of Science People who contributed to the field of engineering, physics, biology, chemistry, social and behavioral sciences, and mathematics.
National Medal of Technology and Innovation It is an honor given to individuals or groups of innovators and investors that made revolutionary contributions to the field of technology.
President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) Individuals, families, and organizations who made contributions in rendering time and effort for the service of others and their communities.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Purple Hearts Have Been Awarded?

Over 1,8 million purple heart recipients have been awarded to date. The demographic includes wounded, killed, and veteran soldiers.

How Do You Get A Purple Heart?

If you are severely injured or killed during combat, friendly fire, or an act of terrorism, you will receive a Purple Heart.

Who Is The First Woman To Receive A Purple Heart?

The first woman to ever receive a Purple Heart was Annie G. Fox in 1942. She was an Army Lieutenant that served during the Pearl Harbor attack.

What Are The Purple Heart Benefits?

The benefits you will get if you are awarded the Purple Heart medals are GI Bill benefits; medical treatment priority; potentially being hired in government jobs; having access to commissary and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; and other benefits given by different states.


Now you know who is the only us president to receive a purple heart.

John F. Kennedy’s life is remarkable, and he deserves that award. Receiving a Purple Heart means bravery, and that is evident in JFK’s life.

As a president with a purple heart award, the citizens trusted him more to lead the country and be a great model for the United States.

Overall, let us remember the historical significance of the Purple Heart by paying tribute to all those who have been awarded it. Also, it’s important to exporess our thanks for their service and sacrifice in defense of our nation and its values.

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