August 7th is National Purple Heart Day. The Purple Heart award is a heart-shaped medal with a gold border, 1 3⁄8 inches (35 mm) wide, containing a profile of Gen. George Washington. Above the heart appears a shield of the coat of arms of George Washington (a white shield with two red bars and three red stars in chief) between sprays of green leaves. The reverse consists of a raised bronze heart with the words “FOR MILITARY MERIT” below the coat of arms and leaves.
It is earned through a recommendation by one’s command based on injuries sustained and can also be requested post-injury by veterans through the National Personnel Records Center. The Purple Heart medal has also been awarded posthumously.
I’ve had the honor of speaking with many Purple Heart veterans, unbeknownst to me. When I reached out to veterans and their caregivers in an attempt to find someone to interview for this article, not many were interested. Whether the circumstances were just too difficult to speak of or they were just so humble, they didn’t want the spotlight; it just wasn’t something most were comfortable with.
Take a moment, though, and really think about what it means to have received this medal. No doubt, rehashing the events of how it was earned isn’t something that many want to dive into— understandably so.
As my husband’s late grandfather, Osee Fagan Sr., affectionately known as “Papa,” became sick, he asked to speak to my husband about his Purple Heart and the near-death experiences where it was earned. His almost 97-year-old wife, Dorothy, gave my husband his medals when he passed away, and every day, I see them in a shadow box in my dining area. The Purple Heart stands out proudly. Below the medals and dog tags is a plaque, written by my husband. He had the opportunity to sit with Papa and hear stories he had never heard before. I imagine Papa knew that my husband may understand his trials by speaking on something that had been so hard to live with. Less than one month before he passed away, the two of them were able to have this visit. What a blessing to have the words to tell this story. It’s a warrior’s legacy that is now on paper for others to see and read. To know the definition by real-life experiences of what a Purple Heart truly is. Everyone enjoys reading the story of “Osee Robert Fagan,” and I thought you may too…
His hardships didn’t end there. Papa lost his first wife in 1956, but he later married his sweetheart, Dorothy, and raised four children. He became a prominent judge in Alachua County, FL, and a successful businessman. He lived a life worth living but never told his story until his deathbed. Papa passed away on December 16, 2014, at 90.
While scouring the internet for information on the Purple Heart, some rather interesting articles and information were available. First, there was a time when the Purple Heart was available for civilians, with the final being awarded in 1996 and this being overruled in 1997. More than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been awarded to veterans since the award was created in 1782.
The Purple Heart is the oldest Military award still presented and was one of the first medals offered to all ranks when earned. Animals have earned the Purple Heart medal. Ever heard of Sgt. “Stubby” the dog, or Sgt. “Reckless” the horse? Army Lt. Annie G. Fox was the first woman awarded the Purple Heart for her actions on the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. President John F. Kennedy is the only president to receive the Purple Heart, Navy, and Marine Corps Medal.
The Purple Heart Medal is an esteemed honor that is earned by blood, sweat, tears, and even death. You can read more stories like this here or enroll veterans who may not be on the wall of honor. Writing this article made me realize that my husband’s grandfather was not on the wall, considering the time of the award. We plan to fix that so that his story may go on to inspire others. Let’s continue to honor these veterans by telling their story because it’s a great way for our children to learn more about our history and the unity of the service members of the greatest country in the world: the United States of America.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren Fagan is a veteran spouse and caregiver. Her husband, Osee, was an active-duty Reconnaissance Marine for 17 years and has multiple combat-related injuries. They have been together for nearly fifteen years and have four amazing children. Lauren is a schoolteacher by trade and loves to read, write, create, live the mermaid life, and be anywhere with her family. She is an active member of her church, and you can usually find her working in the Children’s Ministry there.
Lauren has a strong passion for helping veterans and has advocated not just for her husband but for others as well through the non-profit that she and her husband founded in 2017 in NE Florida called “Operation Barnabas, Inc.” The Fagan’s relocated back to North Carolina in 2021 and continue to assist veterans and their families through the “SpearIt Veteran Spearfishing Project.”
Lauren has written several blogs for Hope For The Warriors and hopes that in sharing her experiences as a caregiver and veteran spouse, the positive impact on other caregivers will be helpful and encouraging in some of their most trying times.
Lauren’s outlook has drastically changed with the seasons and transitions in her life. Seeing the beauty in each one has been pivotal in her mental health and the happiness of their family.