The 10 Americans Awarded The Most Purple Hearts – And The Events That Earned Them Their Medals

The Purple Heart is one of the greatest honors that a grateful American nation can bestow upon those who’ve died or suffered wounds while in the country’s armed forces. Some individuals have won fistfuls of these medals thanks to repeated displays of outstanding bravery. Read on to learn about some true American heroes.

10. Staff Sergeant Albert L. Ireland – Marine Corps

Albert Luke Ireland was born in Cold Spring, New York, in 1918. Like so many Americans, he signed up for military service after the November 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor – in his case less than a week later. Ireland’s chosen outfit was the Marine Corps and he soon found himself on active service in the Pacific theater.

Ireland became the head of a machine gun unit. A Time magazine piece published in 1957 described him as a “slight, wiry” man. But what he may have lacked in stature, he more than compensated for with his outstanding courage in combat and his amazing toughness.

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His first injuries were suffered in Guadalcanal, where he was hit by shrapnel. The jagged metal tore into his back, penetrating a lung. But he refused to leave the battlefield and fought on. That was his initial Purple Heart – and four more were to follow during the war, including one after he’d taken a bullet in the face. After winning five Purple Hearts, most men might feel their fighting days were over.

However, Ireland was made of sterner stuff. When the Korean War started in 1950, he again signed up with the Marines and was soon back in active service. Fighting against the communist forces, Ireland was wounded on four more occasions, in the head, neck, hand and leg. This meant that the sergeant had nine Purple Hearts to his name, the most that been awarded to a U.S. Marine. He died in 1997 aged 79.

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9. Lieutenant. Colonel Richard J. Buck – Army

Born in 1926 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Richard Buck enrolled at the West Point military academy following a spell in the army as part of the occupying forces in Germany after WWII. Once he’d finished at West Point and undertaken infantry training at Fort Benning, Buck was assigned to the 504th Airborne Infantry Regiment in 1951.

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Buck’s first taste of action came in the Korean War in 1952 where he served as a company commander with the 7th Division of the 32nd Infantry Regiment. This lasted until 1953, and it brought Buck a basketful of medals. These included a few Bronze Stars, a Silver Star and four Purple Hearts for the injuries he sustained in combat.

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After the Korean War, Buck continued his service with a variety of units, including time with the First Special Forces Group in the early 1960s. Active service came his way again during the Vietnam War. He proved his bravery in combat in this conflict as well by winning a second Silver Star and four more Bronze Stars for gallantry.

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Moreover, those weren’t the only awards that Buck earned in Vietnam. He was also injured four times and so won another four more Purple Hearts, bringing his career tally to eight. By the time this exceptionally brave solder retired in 1970, he’d reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. Buck passed away in McClean, Virginia, in 1989 at the age of 62.

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8. Major General Robert T. Frederick – Army

Born in San Francisco, California, in 1907 Robert Frederick was still in his teens when he enrolled at West Point. Following a spell with the War Department, he was ordered to form a commando unit, the First Special Service Force. After a couple of false starts, the new unit was deployed to Italy in 1943.

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Late in 1943 Frederick and his special forces unit landed at Naples, Italy, and quickly joined the fighting to wrest the north of the nation from the grasp of the Nazis. Although he was a commanding officer, Frederick wasn’t one to issue orders from a bunker at the rear. He liked to be in the thick of the front-line fighting.

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A particularly hard-fought battle came at Monte la Difensa, where the Germans were well dug in. Frederick’s 2,500-strong force took the position and, according to the Military.com website, Winston Churchill subsequently dubbed him “the greatest fighting general of all time.” The Germans, on the other hand, nicknamed his unit the “Devil’s Brigade.”

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After D-Day in June 1944 Frederick, by now a major general, led the 1st Airborne Task Force on a parachute mission into Nazi-occupied France. He then took command of the 45th Infantry Division, leading his men as they fought their way through France and on into Germany. Frederick paid a price for his brave leadership – he was wounded eight times. And that meant he was awarded eight Purple Hearts, more than any other soldier during WWII.

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7. Colonel David H. Hackworth – Army

David Hackworth, who came into the world in 1931 in Venice, California, was most definitely not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Orphaned before he was six months old, as a teenager he shone shoes at a military base. And it was with the army that his future lay. At the age of just 15, he managed to enroll by pretending he was older.

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Hackworth first saw combat during the war in Korea, fighting with various famous units including the 27th Wolfhound Raiders and the 8th Ranger Company. His superiors obviously recognized his aptitude for combat and he was promoted from the ranks to lieutenant. At 20, he was the youngest soldier to hold that position during the Korean War.

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During his time in Korea, Hackworth was wounded three times in action, each injury earning him a Purple Heart. But that was just the beginning. He went on to serve in the Vietnam War, where he earned a reputation for being something of maverick. One example of this was his relaxed attitude to African-American soldiers saluting him with Black Power raised fist instead of the conventional military salute.

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In Vietnam, Hackworth added five more Purple Hearts to his name, giving him a total of eight. After the war, he took up a career as journalist, often writing acerbic criticisms of America’s military leadership. He died in 1973 of bladder cancer, an unpleasant affliction that has been connected with the Agent Orange defoliant that was widely used during the Vietnam conflict.

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6. Infantryman Curry T. Haynes – Army

Born in 1945 and brought up in Newton County, Georgia, Curry Haynes was stationed from 1967 as an infantryman in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Vietnam War. His first Purple Heart came after his unit was ambushed by enemy troops. Haynes was hit in the arm and had to be evacuated to Vietnam for surgery.

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After suffering a bout of malaria, Haynes was back in action in the summer of 1968. One night, Haynes was cleaning his rifle when enemy ordnance began to rain down on his camp. Speaking to the Athens Banner-Herald in 2015, the infantryman recalled what had happened. “A B-40 rocket hit two positions down,” he said. “Then it hit the position next to me and I knew it would hit my position next, so I ducked down behind some sand bags and (shrapnel) hit me in the chest and left arm.”

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“I kept putting my weapon back together and the North Vietnamese came running down the hill,” Haynes continued. The enemy opened fire and Haynes was hit in both thighs and an ankle. “I was shooting pretty good at first, but the first round that went through my arm cut a nerve. I was bleeding a lot, especially out of my thighs.” Haynes shot two of the Vietnamese attackers but then took two bullets to his left hand, losing a finger in the process.

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A grenade blast then caught Haynes in the right eye but the Vietnamese retreated, leaving him for dead. In that engagement, Haynes sustained nine wounds. He survived and was awarded nine more Purple Hearts. Haynes’ total of ten Purple Hearts means that he has the equal-highest number of awards ever bestowed on a serviceman. Only one other man has achieved that: Lieutenant Colonel William White.

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5. Lieutenant Colonel William Gail White – Army

White, born in 1910, joined the U.S. Marines in 1930. He quickly rose from private to sergeant before he was sent to Fort Benning for officer training in 1942. More promotions followed – he was made a captain and then a major in 1943. Shortly after D-Day in June 1944, when the Allies invaded Nazi-occupied Northern France, White was at last on the front-line in the French town of Carentan.

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July 4 was the day that the Allies advance began. Over the next few days, White was injured no fewer than six times – and continued fighting on the front line after five of those wounds. These frantic days also saw White taken prisoner by an S.S. Panzer unit. However, he escaped captivity, taking a dozen or so fellow U.S. captives with him. Then came his sixth wound, a deep gash on his arm, which saw him end up in hospital in England.

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But despite the severity of his wound, White was determined to re-join the action. Employing some judicious deception, he managed to make his way back to France. In an encounter with German forces, White was hit in the stomach by a volley of bullets. His wounds were bad enough that the last rites were read over him. But again he survived and rejoined his unit after another spell in hospital.

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After WWII, during which he’d earned nine Purple Hearts, White continued serving and fought in the Korean War. During that conflict, he took a bullet in the chest during an attack by communist troops. That wound earned him his tenth Purple Heart, a total only ever equaled by one other soldier: Infantryman Curry T. Haynes.

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4. Captain Joe Hooper – Army

A 1938 baby, Joe Hooper was born in Piedmont, South Carolina. He started his military service with the U.S. Navy, where he stayed for three years until his honorable discharge in 1957. Later, he went on to join the army and it was there that his exceptional courage came to the fore. His opportunities to demonstrate his raw courage came on Hooper’s two deployments to Vietnam.

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It was during Hooper’s second tour of duty in Vietnam, when he held the rank of staff sergeant, that he was ordered to head a unit from the 101st Airborne Division’s Delta Company on a mission. This was the time of the Tet Offensive, a determined and prolonged assault launched by the North Vietnamese in 1968.

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Hooper’s troops attacked a Viet Cong position in a battle that was to last seven hours. During the bitter fighting Hooper came face-to face with an enemy officer. The Viet Cong’s gun malfunctioned, and Hooper himself was all out of ammunition. The former made a run for it but Hopper felled his enemy with a bayonet.

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In the course of this epic engagement, Hooper personally claimed 22 kills. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. Hooper sustained several wounds during that battle, for which he was awarded one of his Purple Hearts. During the entirety of his time in Vietnam Hooper earned no fewer than eight Purple Hearts in all.

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3. Colonel Robert L. Howard – Army

Howard spent his childhood in Opelika, Alabama, and joined the army in 1956 when he was just 17 years old. This coincided with the Vietnam War, during which he was with the U.S. Army Special Forces, starting as a staff sergeant. He completed five tours of duty during the continually, continually distinguishing himself for his extraordinary courage.

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Howard served with the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group, a secretive unit that took on especially dangerous missions. The nature of these high-risk operations led to him being nominated for the Medal of Honor three times through 1967 and 1968. One nomination came for his part in a secret mission in Laos in November 1968.

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During that assignment, Howard neutralized two enemy machine gun nests, the second one not once but twice after it had been reoccupied. Not long afterwards, he was severely wounded on two separate occasions in an ambush. Even so, he managed to knock out a North Vietnamese tank. Howard finally won the Medal of Honor in December 1968 on a mission into Cambodia to rescue a captured U.S. soldier.

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In the Cambodia operation, an exploding ammunition pouch smashed Howard’s fingers and he later took a bullet in the foot. Despite these serious wounds, he was the last man to board the extraction chopper. In the end, Howard served a total of 54 months in Vietnam, earned eight Purple Hearts and was injured 14 times.

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2. Colonel William L. Russell – Army

William Russell was born into a farming family in Franklin County, Arkansas in 1914. He joined the Arkansas National Guard infantry in 1937 and in WWII was posted to the Aleutian Islands in the Pacific theater in 1941, by this time holding the rank of second lieutenant. He saw action there, expelling Japanese forces from the islands of Adak and Attu.

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Russell was wounded during those island battles, earning his first Purple Heart. After a spell at Fort Rucker in Alabama, in 1944 he was posted to France with the 83rd Infantry Division to face the occupying Nazi forces. In the fighting through France he was wounded three times in quick succession, but stayed on the front.

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During the desperate fighting of the Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans mounted a full-scale assault on the invading Allied forces, Russell was wounded twice more. He had been leading an armored unit during the battle but his second wound finally put him out of action. However, he refused to relinquish command until he was sure his men were safely past a German road-block.

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Finally, Howard was shipped out of France aboard a hospital ship and arrived back in the U.S. in May 1945. The severity of his wounds left him in treatment for the rest of that year. During his WWII service, he’d won eight Purple Hearts. And that wasn’t the end of his military career – he also went on to fight in the Korean War.

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1. Sergeant Major William Waugh – Army

A Texan born in 1929, William Waugh joined the U.S. Army in 1948. After training, he was posted to the 82nd Airborne, which was based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. But that didn’t suit the young soldier’s thirst for action, so he re-enlisted to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team that was engaged in the Korean War.

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Waugh next saw action in the Vietnam War, by which time he’d earned the right to wear the prestigious Green Beret of the U.S. Army Special Forces. In Vietnam, he became involved in many risky and secret operations during his five tours of duty. Waugh later published a memoir, Hunting the Jackal, in 2005 in which he recounted some of the hair-raising episodes he’d been involved in.

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Waugh described a mission that had seen his unit being attacked by the North Vietnamese. He wrote, “I took another bullet, this time across the right side of my forehead. I don’t know for sure, but I believe the bullet ricocheted off the bamboo before striking me. It sliced in and out of a two-inch section of my forehead, and it immediately started to bleed like an open faucet.”

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The Vietnamese left him for dead, but he survived the head wound, although they did steal his Rolex watch. By the time he retired from the army in 1972, he’d earned eight Purple Hearts. Moreover, retirement wasn’t the end of the line for Waugh, because for many years he continued his close involvement with the CIA, which began way back in 1961.

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