By Jason Lee
Today is National Purple Heart Day, a time to commemorate an award established in 1932 to honor soldiers who return with injuries or are killed in action.
But the date actually is pinned to the founding of the Purple’s Heart precursor, the Badge of Military Merit, which Gen. George Washington created on Aug. 7, 1782 to honor acts of valor by servicemen during the Revolutionary War.
The first soldier to receive the award, and only one of three on record, was given the honor for valiant actions during the invasions of Fort St. George and Fort Salonga, then known as Fort Slongo.
Sgt. Elijah Churchill, a soldier from the 2nd Continental Dragoons, was part of a raiding party from Connecticut led by Major Benjamin Tallmadge and received the heart-shaped purple medal for his actions at Fort Salonga, said Huntington Town Historian Robert Hughes. “He led the charge on the fort and was wounded in the process.”
The fort was located just north of the current Huntington Town border and overlooked the Long Island Sound. Churchill and his men were targeting essential resources in an attempt to starve the enemy out.
More than 230 years after Churchill was recognized by Washington for his efforts in the Revolutionary War, his name still resonates for some in the community.
Elijah Churchill Public House in Northport is named after the war hero, who was 27 years old when he received the Badge of Military Merit.
“It’s paying homage to the area we are in and the history this town has,” said Cory Hendrickson, the pub’s head chef.
While it’s not a museum by any means, calligraphic writing on the restaurant’s walls describe what Churchill did to earn his award.
In the order conferring the Badge of Military Merit to Churchill, Washington said: “At the head of each body of attack he not only acquitted himself with great gallantry, firmness and address; but that the surprise in one instance, and the success of the attack in the other, proceeded in a considerable degree from his conduct and management.”
Since the honoring of Churchill by Washington, more than 1.8 million veterans have received the Purple Heart.