The Purple Heart is the oldest American military decoration for military merit. It is the most revered and, to be honest, the most unwanted award for military merit among all of the awards given to those who serve in combat.
No one hopes to get a Purple Heart.
One Purple Heart is more than enough to have been awarded, but this story will introduce one man who was awarded 9 of them over a period of 12 years in service in the United States Marine Corps in both WWII and the Korean War. His name is Staff Sgt. Albert Ireland.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart describes this award as: “Awarded to members of the armed forces of the United States who are wounded by an instrument of war at the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those killed in action or who died of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.”
This award goes back to the Revolutionary War. It was established by then General George Washington in 1792 and was called the “Badge of Military Merit.” The modern Purple Heart was authorized after in 1932. It replaced the WWI “Army Wound Ribbon” and the “Wound Chevrons” that were worn on the sleeve denoting the number of times one had been wounded in combat. There have been over 2 million Purple Hearts awarded since 1932.
Those who have been in combat understand the honor and the respect that is associated with the Purple Heart. It represents those who have shed their blood on the battlefield in defense of the Constitution and the nation that it represents and upholds.
The Purple Hearts worn by living service members and veterans represent courage and the cost of having met the enemy on the field of battle and survived. For those killed in action, the Purple Heart awarded to the next of kin reminds them of the courage and the ultimate sacrifice their son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother willingly paid to protect and defend the freedoms, rights and privileges given to all Americans by the Constitution of the United States of America. This, then, might give you a sense of paradox represented by this military award. It is both a badge of courage and of high honor, but no one would consciously seek this award. It represents survival in the face of the enemy on the battlefield as much as anything else.
One man has the unusual distinction of having been awarded the Purple Heart more than any other, Staff Sgt. Albert Ireland. He was born in Cold Springs, New York on Feb. 25, 1918. He joined the United States Marine Corps in 1941, just before the beginning of WWII. During WWII, he would fight alongside his Marine brothers through some of the most difficult landings and battles in the Pacific Theater. His MOS was 0335, an infantry machine gun team leader with the 3rd Bn., 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. He would be awarded 5 Purple Hearts during his service in WWII.
After WWII, Ireland remained in the Marine Reserves and began studies in Health and Education at Ithaca College, then the University of Arizona and at the University of Notre Dame. In 1950 he was called back to active duty after the outbreak of the Korean War.
When he was called up, he went to Camp Lejeune for refresher combat training then he applied for combat duty in Korea. An officer at Camp Lejeune attempted to deny him that request as he had already been awarded 5 Purple Hearts. This was in accordance with Marine Corps regulations. That officer was overruled when Ireland appealed to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Clifton B. Cates. He was then flown from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco on the way to Korea. In Korea he was attached to the 3rd Bn. 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.
Ireland, as a result of the seriousness of his last wound was medically and honorably discharged in 1953. He had received four more Purple Hearts from wounds to his leg, hand, neck and head. This brought the total number of Purple Hearts he had been awarded to nine. Ireland would come home to Cold Springs, NY where he would take up a career as a firefighter with the Cold Springs Fire Department. He died on Nov. 16, 1997 in Kansas at the age of 79. He is buried in the Cold Springs, NY cemetery. The Putnam County Sheriff’s Dept. has named a Marine Patrol Boat that currently patrols the Hudson River in his honor.
Over his 12 years in the Marine Corps, through two wars, Ireland was awarded the Bronze Star with one gold service star along with his Purple Heart with one silver oak leaf and three bronze oak leaf clusters, representing his nine Purple Heart awards.
The Veterans Site wishes to honor the memory of Staff Sgt. Albert Ireland. We thank him for his courageous and determined service to the nation and to the United States Marine Corps over his 12 years of active and reserve enlistments. We thank him for his service to his hometown as a firefighter as well. Semper Fi, Marine!
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.