Santa Barbara County was officially proclaimed a Purple Heart County on Tuesday, recognizing the numerous veterans in the region who have been honored with the Purple Heart medal.
The combat decoration is given by the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization formed in 1932 to commemorate the services of ‘combat’ veterans, regardless of their ranks as soldiers. According to National Purple Heart Trail Coordinator Jim Berg, the Purple Heart is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces wounded during war or presented to family members of those killed during action.
“Counties that become a Purple Heart County are expressing their gratitude and giving tribute and honor to the men and women who have been awarded the Purple Heart medal,” Berg said. “On behalf of our National Commander, Bruce McKenty, I wish to congratulate the Purple Heart veterans of Santa Barbara for their outstanding work in making Santa Barbara our nation’s newest Purple Heart County.”
The proclamation of Santa Barbara as a Purple Heart County was sponsored by First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal and accepted by members of the MOPH. With the addition of Santa Barbara, California claims the most proclamations with approximately 14 Purple Heart cities, three Purple Heart counties and California itself named a Purple Heart state this past April.
The initial naming of the Order and the award was derived from the Purple Heart Viola, now the organization’s official flower. Gary “Doc” Rutledge, the MOPH’s Department of California Commander, said the Purple Heart status serves to honor and commemorate individuals who have surrendered a portion of themselves for the betterment of their country and its people.
“It makes me very proud to know that those of us who have shed blood for our country are being honored by our cities, counties and our great state,” Rutledge said.
MOPH accrues an annual operating budget of about $9 million, $6 million of which is directed to support their Service Program. This program consists of a nationwide network of 78 service offices in 43 states and two territories, including Guam and Puerto Rico. MOPH’s Service Foundation uses the funding — most of which is received from restricted or unrestricted grants and fundraising activities such as thrift store sales or vehicle donations — to assist veterans and their families with issues such as employment or health.
So far, MOPH has helped over 73,800 veterans and dependents. In 2012, the MOPH Scholarship Program awarded 83 scholarships at a total of over $250,000 to recent Purple Heart recipients and families of MOPH members killed in action.
According to Carbajal, MOPH aims to promote patriotism and increase support for veterans and their families. Carbajal said Santa Barbara’s titling as a Purple Heart County will heighten awareness of the sacrifice these soldiers made and still are making for their country and its citizens.
“It is an honor to pay tribute to the sacrifices of our veterans who have been wounded or [have] paid the ultimate price with their lives while protecting our country and the freedoms we all enjoy,” Carbajal said.