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The Homefront, Then and Now

A Promise Fulfilled

Find This Heart a Home
You may have read the touching story about how Pvt. Thomas Bateman’s Purple Heart was returned to his family 69 years after he died fighting to free the Philippines during World War II. The happy ending required the dedication of three men: Thomas McAvoy, who had found Bateman’s Purple Heart in a Chicago apartment house basement and had been looking for its owner for years, John Trinca, who had held Bateman in 1945 as he died and always wanted to share his experience with the private’s family, and Zachariah Fike, who made the connection possible.

Fike is a captain in the Vermont National Guard. He has deep military roots. His grandfather served in the Philippines in the 1940s; his father is a Vietnam veteran with a 26-year Army career; and his mother was one of the first female Army Drill Sergeants. Four uncles also saw service. A 16-year veteran, Fike has served combat deployments to Iran and Afghanistan and earned his own Purple Heart. In 2012, he was inspired to found Purple Hearts Reunited, a 501(c)(3) organization, and since then he and his dedicated volunteers have reunited more than 100 metals with their recipients or their families. Search is underway for 200 more lost owners.

Medals turn up in flea markets, pawnshops, antique stores, and estate sales. They are listed on Craigslist and eBay, found in attics, storage units and even buried in the ground. They are discovered in abandoned houses, old furniture and vehicles. They are turned in by the concerned public.

The medals are returned in a dignified format, mounted and framed with individualized designs. Purple Hearts Reunited arranges a Return Ceremony attended by the family and sometimes the public. Those involved are invited to speak about their loved ones, telling their story, relating favorite memories. The event closes with a meaningful memorial ceremony honoring the veteran’s sacrifice. At Bateman’s ceremony, John Trinca was gratified to meet Bateman’s son, who was 10 months old when his father died. Trinca said, “This has been an emotional journey that has taken me 69 years, two months, and 13 hours. May he rest in peace.”

If research, which can take more than a year, fails to find family, the medal is placed where it will be honored, such as in a military museum. PHR foundation will attempt to return any kind of medal and other military gear, such as uniforms, jewelry or documents. For more stories of medals which found a home, to report a lost or found medal, or to donate to the organization, contact their web site, www.purpleheartsreunited.org. It includes a Lost Hearts database and displays information about the recipient of every medal that has been returned.
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