8 Famous Recipients of the Purple Heart

It is a common knowledge that the Purple Heart is a US military award given to servicemen and women who were injured [or killed] by the enemy while in service. How many of these 8 famous personalities did you know were Purple Heart recipients? Read through and find out.

1. Charles Bronson

Bronson, a well-known American TV and movie actor, appeared in big Hollywood classics such as The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape and Once Upon a Time in the West. However, if not for his service in the army, Bronson might not have graced the TV and movie screens at all.

Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West

Born Charles Dennis Buchinsky, Bronson grew up so poor that he literally had to wear his sister’s clothes to school because he did not have any of his own.

Charles joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 and started his life in army service as a truck driver. Eventually, he became a tail gunner of a B-29. He got injured during the time he spent in the Army and was awarded the Purple Heart. After WWII ended, Bronson used the GI Bill to study acting and became the renowned action star that he was.

2. James Garner

The younger generation may know James Garner as the old version of Ryan Gosling’s character, Noah, in the 2004 romantic movie The Notebook. But before he carved his name in the annals of Hollywood, he spent considerable time serving his country in the armed forces.

James Garner in The Notebook

When WWII was nearing its end, James Bumgarner [his real name] joined the Merchant Marines. He was only 16 at that time and did not do quite well as he got seasick throughout the duration of his service there.

Later on, he served in the National Guard for seven months and eventually joined the army. He was with the 24th Infantry for a year and two months during the Korean War.

James was injured twice during his stint with the armed forces — one when he was hit by mortar round shrapnel in the face and hand and he was also hit in the buttocks by US fighter jets as he was diving into a foxhole. As a result, he was given two Purple Hearts though he wasn’t able to get the second one until after more than three decades later.

3. James Arness

James Arness [or Aurness; he just dropped the “u” when he already started his acting career] is well-known for playing the character of Marshall Matt Dillon in the TV series Gunsmoke for more than fifty years. Additionally, he had a cult following in Europe for portraying Zeb Macahan in the TV series How the West was Won.

But before he made a name for himself in the acting field, Jame Arness was the recipient of several military decorations – which included the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart – for his service in the army during the Second World War.

Arness enlisted into the US army in 1943. He wanted to be a fighter pilot but poor eyesight and his height ended that dream. He was 6’7″ and the maximum height for pilots in those times was only 6’2″. Instead, he went into war a rifleman.

Unfortunately, Arness’ height singled him out from everyone else and he was tasked to get off the boat first during an invasion in Anzio, Italy to test the depth of the water. That made him the first target for enemy fire. So, less than a year in his service, James Arness sustained an injury – he was shot in his right leg – that pestered him even in later years.

Nevertheless, the injury also led him to his stellar television career. It was the nurses who encouraged him to work in the radio because of his deep, booming voice. This, eventually, became his stepping stone to Hollywood.

4. Kurt Vonnegut

American writer Kurt Vonnegut wrote the Slaughterhouse Five with his WWII experiences in mind. The author fought during the said conflict and was taken as a POW after the Battle of the Bulge.

Additionally, he was also one of the few who survived the American bombing of Dresden in February 1945. After WWII ended, Mr. Vonnegut was given the Purple Heart for his service. These facts, most of his fans knew of.

What they didn’t know though is the reason behind his Purple Heart.

While most might think it was given because of his being in the Dresden bombing, it was not so. According to him, he earned the Purple Heart for a “ludicrously negligible wound” after getting frostbitten.

5. James Jones

James Jones is another American novelist who used his wartime experiences as an inspiration for his works. And just like Vonnegut, Jones was a Purple Heart recipient.

Jones is the author of the “war trilogy” as the set is called – From Here to Eternity, The Thin Red Line and Guadalcanal and Whistle – two of which were made into movies [one in 1953 and shelled eight Oscars when it was released while the other has two motion pictures in its sleeve, 1964 and 1998]. Jones had this distinction of successfully incorporating reality into fiction one could not distinguish which was real and which was a product of his imagination.

From Here to Eternity


The Thin Red Line [1998]

James Jones enlisted in the army in 1939, served in Guadalcanal with the 25th Infantry and got wounded there which explains his Purple Heart medal.

6. Rod Serling


If you are a fan of The Twilight Zone, then, you might find this one trivia tidbit to be very interesting — if it not had been for a WWII injury, the creepy yet very successful TV series would not have been created.

Rod Serling joined, before his writing days, joined the army his eagerness in fighting off the Nazis overflowing. But then, he was sent to the Philippines instead to contend with the Japs.

He got assigned in one of the most dangerous platoons in the area and though he was very lucky to come out alive from there, the many wounds he obtained in service as well as the horrors of war he saw stuck with him like the plague and became his inspirations for creating the series and writing many of its successful and famous episodes.

7. Ronald Lawrence Kovic


For those who don’t know who Ron Kovic is, watch the 1989 movie Born on the Fourth of July. It’s literally a film about his life.

The Vietnam War vet, writer and anti-war activist was in Vietnam for two tours. He got wounded during his second tour which caused his paralysis. Aside from being a recipient of the Purple Heart, he also got a Bronze Star with a “V” device for valor.

When he returned home, Kovic became a very outspoken anti-war supporter that he got himself arrested twelve times for it. He wrote the screenplay for the above-mentioned movie himself and was awarded a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay 22 years to the date he got injured.

8. Oliver Stone

Born on the Fourth of July [just one of his several war-themed works] director Oliver Stone is a Vietnam War vet himself. And like Kovic, he also is a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient.


Stone even dropped out of Yale just so he could sign up for the army and went as far as requested combat duty in Vietnam.

His 1986 masterpiece, Platoon, was largely based from his experiences while on duty during the Vietnam War.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE