This play is based on a true incident which began on the morning of December 7, 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Forces of Japan. During the salvage operations in 1942, three sailors' bodies were found in a compartment of the sunken battleship, USS West Virginia. By articles found inside and writing on the bulkheads, workers determined that the three men had survived in the interior of the ship for approximately three weeks as they awaited rescue, before suffocating to death. Details beyond this are, of course, sketchy.
Purple Hearts is based on the facts of this incident. It is not intended to be an actual account of what went on inside the cramped compartment, but rather an exercise in what could have transpired in the given situation. No one can really know what the three men experienced as they slowly died, waiting for someone to find them.