Do they remove you from combat in the US military if you have 3 purple hearts?

It’s something I heard a LONG time ago and always thought it was true but looking it up on Google I can’t find anything about it.

But basically in World War 2 if you got 3 purple hearts you were generally rotated back to a position behind the front lines, sort of similar to how bomber crews only had to fly a certain amount of missions. Basically if you already have 3 purple hearts odds are your opportunity to get the 4th one was just going to kill you.

Anyone know if there’s any truth to this? I watched a YouTube channel recently of an interviewer exposing fake veterans and somebody claimed to have gotten “five purple hearts” in Vietnam which the interviewer scoffed at as a sign of him making up, is that related to what I’m talking about?

I heard this claim in relation to John Kerry and Vietnam, as he was being criticized during his presidential run by Oliver North for having three purple hearts, supposedly allowing him to go home (and with Oliver North being quoted as having turned down every purple heart after his second deliberately to stay in theater, because he was just such a humble guy before making a career as a talking head). But the only source I can find is the NY Post, which I do not consider to be a reliable source of information, particularly when it comes to vetting sources, and at best it does nothing more than repeat something Oliver North (himself a questionable source of facts) is supposed to have said.

Yeah I heard this claim way before the 2004 election, sometime in the 90s, but that would make it seem like it’s something that people in the military might discuss amongst themselves.

I heard it when I was in the military, but since I couldn’t find official confirmation or official denial, I always assumed the rumor was allowed to run unchecked to encourage soldiers to go that extra mile.

Turning down an award wouldn’t erase the record of an injury, and it was the injury that mattered. They wouldn’t let a guy who lost an arm back into combat just because he turned down the Purple Heart, and the same goes for a lesser injury that still would bar one from combat.

A lot of injuries got you either reassigned or sent home, and it had nothing to do with either the fact that you’d “done enough,” or that anyone was playing the odds-- the next bullet you took had no way of knowing anything about what any previous bullets had done.

It had to do with whether it was cost effective to keep you on full salary while you rehabbed.

The length of your rehab, whether you’d be able to return to full duty, any duty you could perform while rehabbing, and what prior civilian skills you possessed that might make it easy to reassign you, or what specifically your job had been, and whether that would make it easy to reassign you, all played a role. It was easier to reassign a front-line medic with a slight limp-- lots of positions at hospitals-- than an infantryman.

Statistically, it was unlikely for someone to earn more than three Purple Hearts, but it was not impossible. Working his way up to Staff Sergeant, a guy named Albert Ireland earned nine Purple Hearts between 1941 and 1953 as a marine, serving in both WWII and Korea. He lived to tell about it, too, albeit, was finally medically discharged after the injury that got him the 9th award proved too much to allow him to remain in service.

SSGT Ireland has the record, so far, but he may not hold it forever, as better medicine, and way better rehab are allowing soldiers to return to combat after much graver wounds than ever before-- if they choose to. The current military policies are still being hammered out, but when and whether to allow willing soldiers back after injuries that would have earned a discharge in a previous generation are a real snarl. The idea that taking a huge hit has “earned” someone a discharge-- regardless of the eventual outcome vis a vis convalescence and rehab-- still persists, even though it has never been official policy, and the current military is all-volunteer, with more people than ever willing, and wanting to go back after recovering.

This is an interesting case. Per Wikipedia, he received five Purple Hearts in World War II, and another four in Korea before finally being invalided out. So it’s certainly possible to serve in combat after receiving quite a few Purple Hearts. But a Time magazine article cited in his Wiki article has this interesting tidbit:

When the U.S. got into the Korean war, he promptly reenlisted in the Marines. Since the corps has a rule against sending men with more than two Purple Hearts into combat, Ireland needed special authorization to get into a front-line unit. The word came down from the Marines’ commandant, General Clifton B. Gates: “If the sergeant wants to fight, let him fight.” [emphasis added]

The Time reporter could have gotten that wrong, of course, but it seems like there is actually something to the idea that after multiple Purple Hearts you’d normally be rotated out of a frontline combat position. That’s also cited as a Marine Corps policy, not a War/Defense Department policy, so it would probably vary by service.

Per Wikipedia, a number of individuals received more than five Purple Hearts during the Vietnam conflict. Four individuals received eight Purple Hearts, and Curry T. Haynes received ten. As @RivkahChaya states, five Purple Hearts is just statistically unlikely, and it sounds like the kind of thing a “stolen valor” fraudster would claim, but it’s actually possible, and the interviewer might have been over-zealous in scoffing at that claim as in and of itself being a sign of “stolen valor.”

Purple Hearts aren’t always issued because of enemy action. One of the guys in my unit was injured when a piece of metal wounded him while he was trying to remove the bottom of a steel barrel. The Corpsman who removed the fragment told him he could put him in for a Purple Heart if he wanted. He declined.

That’s simply not true. I mean, I believe you that the incident happened, but if the Corpsman who said that was actually serious*, they were gravely mistaken. Purple Hearts are only awarded under the following circumstances:

Unless the steel barrel were an enemy of the United States, the guy in your unit would not have been eligible for a Purple Heart. More seriously, if removing the bottom of the steel barrel were somehow directly related to combat action against an opposing armed force, it might qualify.

*Joking about minor, stupid injuries making someone eligible for a Purple Heart was pretty much universal every time anyone managed to accidentally hurt themselves when I served.

That could have been the case. I’m just reporting what occurred.

Yeah I remember hearing the (probably) apocryphal story of some guy who was shaving when enemy mortars struck his base and despite not hitting anywhere near him the sudden noises caused him to cut himself shaving, he put in for a purple heart as a joke but he wound up getting it because if the enemy mortars hadn’t had hit he wouldn’t have been “wounded”.

It’s possible that for morale, there may have been policies regarding cumulative injury, that got people discharged after taking a certain amount of damage, even if it was considered “recoverable”; after all, PTSD was known as far back as WWI, it was just called “shell shock” then, and “battle fatigue” later. Sending back someone who had been wounded to the point of “battle fatigue” was not good for the whole unit.

Vietnam was already different from preceding wars, not only because with each war, recovery got better and quicker, but because draftees were promised to be out of combat service and on their way home a year after training (not discharged, just downgraded), with even infantry volunteers usually not serving longer than a year in actual combat unless they specifically volunteered for it. So, sending someone back after a third injury wasn’t the “no light at the end of the tunnel” situation it was for someone continually sent back during WWII, where soldiers were there for the duration, in most cases.

If there were such policies, it may have been that it made it even more unlikely for someone to get awarded more than three Purple Hearts-- even possible that at some point, “three Purple Hearts” was one the list along with “Two major bones broken” and “six pints of blood transfused” or whatever (I made those up), but I served, and in all my training, was never informed that such a policy was active, or set in stone. It was probably informal, ad hoc, or both.

My dad told me that once, while he was in Vietnam, his unit was running for the bunkers because enemy artillery was landing nearby, and he tripped and fell over a 1’ tall garden fence. He genuinely believed that he was due a Purple Heart for that, and was bitter that he didn’t get it.

By my reading of the qualifications for the Purple Heart, one could conceivably pick up 5 awards in 5 seconds. The wounds just can’t be “at the same instant.” But multiple pieces of metal encountering flesh from different sources (that can be proved) would seem to qualify.