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US Postal Service Unveils Purple Heart Stamp - 2003-06-27

In New York Friday, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new stamp dedicated to all those who have served in the armed forces.

The Purple Heart is the oldest U.S. military honor. It is awarded to members of the armed services who have exhibited bravery and personal sacrifice and are killed or wounded in combat. Usually, it is worn only by military veterans as a badge of honor on the uniform, or it is kept by families who lost a loved one.

Now, a Purple Heart stamp can be pasted on envelopes and packages.

Colonel Richard Esau is a veteran of the Vietnam War who was awarded the Purple Heart in 1967, after he was injured in two separate incidents by a grenade and mortar fire.

"Those of us who have a Purple Heart are very appreciative of the American people and the fact they saw fit to let us have our stamp, one that tells those of us who went into combat, went into harm's way, that the American people appreciate our sacrifice," he said.

Revolutionary War General George Washington, who became the first president of the United States, first came up with the idea for the medal as a way to honor common soldiers for uncommon acts of bravery. Since 1782 1,800,000 Purple Hearts have been awarded but 435,000 of those Purple Hearts were never worn by their recipients.

The stamp depicts the medal, a gold framed purple heart displaying George Washington's profile.

Richard Dwyer is chairman of the American Veterans Memorial Committee. He says the stamp is a symbol of what it means to be an American.

"Though we understand that the Purple Heart stamp is a two-dimensional image, when we embrace it, we embrace our heritage as Americans," he said. "When we embrace it we define ourselves, for we define ourselves with honor, with truthfulness, with integrity, with loyalty. The medal itself becomes the center point. We always stand at the pivot point, looking back to where we have come from."

Purple Hearts have been awarded to veterans of every major war in United States history. Ted Bittle is one of the most recent recipients of the Purple Heart. He is a Navy Corpsman who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq. In April, he was wounded by a suicide bomber in Baghdad, and received shrapnel to his face and arm and lost vision in his right eye. For Mr. Bittle, being in the presence of other Purple Heart recipients at the announcement of the stamp's dedication was an honor in itself.

"To be here with people who served in World War II, Vietnam," he said. "It's a privilege just to be around these guys who gave so much. It's an honor."

Like the popular American flag stamp, the Purple Heart stamp is a permanent issue, not a commemorative one. That means it will be available for many years to come.