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Terror victims to receive military, civilian awards

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a "a fitting honor and a tribute to extraordinary service," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Thursday announced that members of the Armed Forces who died in the September 11 attacks will receive the Purple Heart military decoration.

In addition, civilian Defense Department employees who were killed or wounded in the attacks will receive a new decoration, the Defense of Freedom medal, designed to be the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart, Rumsfeld said.

The Purple Heart is a combat medal, but Rumsfeld noted the attacks were characterized by President Bush as "not just acts of terror, but an act of war."

Marines honor fallen military personnel  
Click to see the Defense of Freedom medal  

The new medal "will be awarded to those who are killed or wounded by hostile action while serving in support of the department," Rumsfeld said.

"The establishment of this declaration is a fitting honor and a tribute to the extraordinary dedication and service of the department's civilian work force," he said. "It's also a recognition that the world has changed, that we can no longer count on future wars being waged safely in their regions of origin."

At the discretion of the secretary of defense, the medal may be awarded to non-Defense Department employees, such as contractors, based on their involvement in department activities.

The round, gold medal bears the words "Defense of Freedom" framing a bald eagle holding a shield, meant to represent "the principles of freedom and the defense of those freedoms upon which our nation is founded," the Defense Department said.

The reverse side is inscribed with "On behalf of a grateful nation," with a space for the recipient's name to be inscribed, framed by a laurel wreath representing "honor and high achievement," the department said.

The ribbon from which the medal is suspended is red, white and blue. According to the Defense Department: "The red stripes commemorate valor and sacrifice. The wide blue stripe represents strength. The white stripes symbolize liberty as represented in our national flag. The number of red stripes represents the four terrorist attacks using hijacked airplanes and the single blue stripe represents the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001."

The Order of the Purple Heart for Military Merit was the first U.S. military decoration, instituted by Gen. George Washington in 1782. It originally was designed to honor "any singularly meritorious action," according to Washington's orders. The medal was revived in 1932 to be given to military personnel who are wounded or killed in combat.


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