By Taniel Koushakjian
August 8, 2013
Yesterday marked the 231st anniversary of the establishment of the “Badge of Military Merit,” known today as the Purple Heart, by General George Washington on August 7, 1782. When I first heard this news, I was drawn to the memory of my grandfather, U.S. Army Sergeant Ara Odabachian. Although a well-decorated soldier in his own right, he did not receive a Purple Heart, but there had to have been some Armenians who did. After all, thousands of Armenians have fought valiantly in the U.S. Armed Forces, with verified records dating as far back as the Civil War.
According to Professor Ray Raymond, upon his victory at Yorktown, General Washington’s “officers were on the verge of mutiny because of lack of pay, rations and supplies withheld by a corrupt and negligent Congress. Worse, Congress had taken away the authority of his general officers to recognize their soldiers’ courage and leadership by awarding commissions in the field. Congress simply could not afford to pay their existing officers let alone any new ones. As a result, faithful service and outstanding acts of bravery went unrecognized and unrewarded. George Washington was determined to end that. So from his headquarters perched 80 feet above the Hudson, he issued a general order establishing the ‘Badge of Distinction’ and ‘Badge of Merit.’”
Although not a national holiday, the great State of Florida is one of a few states that recognize August 7 as Purple Heart Day.
Our country’s oldest military award, the Badge of Military Merit was intended to be permanent; however, the end of the Revolutionary War marked the end of the award. That is until 1932, one hundred and fifty years after its inception. On the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth:
…By order of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart, established by General George Washington at Newburgh, August 7, 1782, during the War of the Revolution is hereby revived out of respect to his memory and military achievements.
By order of the Secretary of War:
General, Chief of Staff
So that morning I thought to myself, “How many Armenians have received the Purple Heart? Somebody has to know!” To my astonishment, no such list existed, until today.
With the assistance of the Assembly’s ARAMAC-Pennsylvania Vice Chair Paul Sookiasian, who is active with his local Pennsylvania Armenian-American Veterans Association (PAAVA), he directed me to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor registry. There I was able to search and compile a list of nearly 80 confirmed Armenian recipients of the Purple Heart. In addition to this list, I consulted one of the most important publications on Armenian-American military figures, the 1996 “Triumph and Glory: Armenian World War II Heroes,” by Richard N. Demirjian. I found one name that was not in the registry and there has got to be potentially more Armenians who have served that do not carry the “ian.”
Florida Armenians would be proud to know that two of our very own are on this list. First is Barkef Assarian (1922-2004) from Clearwater who received three Purple Hearts for his service in World War II. 92-year-old Middleton Mustian from Tallahassee, the father of former Tallahassee City Commissioner Mark Mustian, is the second. “My father, Middleton Mustian, served in the medical corps of the Third Army under General Patton, and was wounded near the town of Koblenz in 1945,” Mark Mustian told FLArmenians. “He still bears shrapnel in his leg to this day from it. He told me that, after he recovered from his injury, he was recalled to the front but didn’t want to go back. When he returned to the front he asked his commanding officer why he had called him back, and the officer told him his replacements had been ‘too scared.’ When my father told him that he was scared, too, the officer said, ‘Yes, but you can get the job done.’ It’s still difficult to get him to talk a whole lot about it,” Mustian said.
From the Assembly’s 2006 National Advocacy Conference, to the designation of the Colonel George Juskalian United States Post Office in Centreville, Virginia in 2010, and other activities honoring our service men and women, the Armenian Assembly of America has a strong record of raising awareness of and honoring Armenian veterans of the United States.
I know this list is incomplete. Therefore, I am asking anyone with more information about Armenian-Americans who have received the Purple Heart to contact the Assembly at email@example.com or 202-393-3434. With the help of the Armenian-American community we can complete this list and together raise awareness of the proud Armenian presence in the U.S. Armed Forces.
This article originally appeared on the Armenian Assembly’s Blog and has been edited for FLArmenians readers.