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Former POWs Now Eligible for Posthumous Purple Hearts

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2008 – A policy change to expand eligibility for the Purple Heart award to prisoners of war who died in captivity represents the right decision that recognizes their sacrifice, a senior defense official told American Forces Press Service.

The Pentagon announced the new policy earlier this week that will extend criteria for receiving Purple Hearts to prisoners of war who have died in captivity since the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

“The Purple Heart is an award worn with great pride and recognizes that the servicemember has been wounded or killed as a result of enemy action,” said Samuel Retherford, director of the Pentagon's officer and enlisted personnel management directorate 

The revision maintains the integrity of the award while allowing a reasonable presumption that servicemembers who die in captivity did so as a result of enemy action or complicity, he said.

Retherford noted that the conditions and circumstances of capture and captivity are difficult to document. But unless compelling evidence indicates otherwise, the policy assumes that the death resulted from enemy action or from wounds incurred as a result of enemy action during capture.

The new policy will allow retroactive award of the Purple Heart to qualifying POWs since World War II. This will cover the large number of American POWs who died in captivity during that war, Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.

Extension of the Purple Heart to these POWs does not constitute dual recognition for the same act or service, Lainez emphasized.

“The POW Medal recognizes honorable service for members who endure the trials and tribulations associated with being a POW,” she said. “The Purple Heart recognizes servicemembers who are wounded or killed in action with the enemy or as a result of enemy action.”

Each military department will publish application procedures for retroactive Purple Heart awards. Family members with questions may contact the services directly: Army, 703-325-8700; Navy, 314-592-1150; Air Force, 800-616-3775; Marine Corps, 703-784-9340.

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