They've been found in retirement homes, storage lockers and abandoned houses. They've been dug up from the ground, snatched in robberies, stumbled upon in old furniture and vehicles, and turned over to federal agencies.
Now, one Vermont-based non-profit is working to return Purple Heart medals to their rightful owners.
The Purple Heart is the nation's oldest military medal. Originally introduced as the Badge of Military Merit by George Washington, it has been bestowed almost two million times and is awarded to those wounded or killed in battle.
With two million medals in circulation, it's easy to see how some of them are misplaced or lost over time. That's where Purple Hearts Reunited steps in. The organization helps those who have found a medal return it to the person who received it or their surviving family. It also helps veterans locate replacement documentation and medals, and can assist them in enrolling in the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.
When the organization finds a match, it conducts a return ceremony if possible. In the case of one participant, it provided him the only connection he had to his father, who was killed during World War II before he was born.
Beyond the emotional connection to the award, Purple Heart recipients and their families are also entitled to specific benefits, which makes reuniting the found medals with their rightful owners even more meaningful.
So what should you do if you find a Purple Heart? Here are the steps to take:
First, contact Purple Hearts Reunited to report the found medal. Make sure you include information such as any engraving on the medal, where you found it, when you found it and a photo of the medal.
Second, check the Lost Hearts Database on the Purple Hearts Reunited website to see whether the medal you've found is listed.
Third, send the medal to Purple Hearts Reunited by registered mail to be catalogued and researched. Purple Hearts Reunited will keep in contact with you and let you know if there will be a return ceremony once the owner is found. Medals can be sent to the following address: Purple Hearts Reunited, 38 N. Main St., Suite 112, St. Albans, VT 05478.
To learn more about the Purple Heart, check out this two minute brief.