Because no relatives were found, medal presented to museum
A Purple Heart medal awarded to a Chanute veteran returned to the community Wednesday afternoon at the Chanute Historical Society museum.
Zachariah Fike, founder of Purple Hearts Reunited, presented the medal in a framed plaque to the museum. The medal was originally given to Charles Allen, Jr., of Chanute, for service during the Korean War.
The medal was one of six returned to Missouri and Kansas over two days, Fike said. Four were from World War II and two were from Korea.
Purple Hearts Reunited, based in Vermont, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that returns lost or stolen medals and other memorabilia to families and local communities. It has returned about 800 medals since it was founded 10 years ago, and receives about one medal a day to be returned.
Fike said about 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded. He said about half of those turn up in old homes and vehicles, while the other half are actively searched for by members.
The organization purchased Allen’s medal from a military collector who marketed it for open sale on a collector website. The medals can receive a high price among collectors, Fike said.
Allen’s medal had his name engraved on the back. Since the overall design of the Purple Heart has changed very little, some families just had to take the organization’s word that it belonged to their relative.
“To the naked eye, they all look similar,” Fike said.
Because of slight variations in the manufacture and engraving style, Allen’s medal was identified as one that was made during World War II. The medals from the same batch were given in the Korea and Vietnam conflicts.
Allen received the award on Sept. 20, 1952 while serving with Company G of the Seventh Infantry Regiment of the Third Infantry Division, but Fike said it would be tough to tell how he was wounded. Allen remained disabled until his death in 1990, and the only surviving relative at the time was a sister who died in 2007 with no survivors.
Once a medal is sent to Purple Hearts Reunited, researchers start with grandparents to try to locate family. Sometimes the medals are returned to nieces or nephews and occasionally to great-nieces, but Fike said once the family gets to cousins the relationships become cloudy.
To prevent family conflicts, he said they recommend presenting the medal to a local “home of honor” such as the museum. Occasionally when the medal is presented, a sibling will come forward.
Fike also said about 10 medals are sent to the organization when a return is publicized.
Historical society board member Craig Reaves said he only learned about the presentation Tuesday. Fike also returned medals in Independence, Mo., and Pittsburg on Wednesday.
He said he would like to find a photo of Allen.
“I love seeing the face with the names,” Fike said.