(COMMERCE CITY, Colo.) — A man outside Denver who found a Purple Heart medal at a bus stop hopes to find the rightful owner of the military honor — but his search for the correct medal recipient hasn’t been easy.
John McDermott, 25, said he noticed something on the ground as he was waiting for his bus in Commerce City, Colorado, on March 11, on his way to work at around 6:50 a.m.
“The actual box caught my eye, sitting under the two bench legs,” McDermott, of Thornton, Colorado, told ABC News. “I initially thought it was a biker’s wallet or a lady’s hand purse because of the design on the box. When I reached for it, I realized … it was a Purple Heart.”
“The way it was positioned looked like it had been placed there and not just dropped,” McDermott said. “The majority of the box was pushed up under the bench and you could just see the corner. It might have been just placed there and just dropped and kicked.”
When he opened the box, the warehouse worker said he immediately recognized it as a Purple Heart medal. When he got to work, he asked his supervisor, a Marine veteran, if it looked real.
“He said, ‘It’s definitely real and somebody’s going to be missing it,'” McDermott said.
He started researching the name of the school, Peterson School, listed on a tassel with the medal, but found multiple schools by that name in different states. “Class of 1940″ was written on another tassel.
McDermott’s father took the story to a local radio station, and ABC News affiliate KMGH-TV covered the story Wednesday.
In the process, the radio station contacted Zachariah Fike, who runs the non-profit Purple Hearts Reunited from Georgia, Vermont. Fike’s organization has returned about 150 Purple Hearts and other military honors since July 2012. He said he returns about two medals or pieces of military memorabilia each month to military veterans or their family members. In the pipeline are about 300 items, including Purple Hearts, dog tags, class rings, photos, and Bronze and Silver Stars that the organization is trying to return.
Medals not given posthumously do not have a name engraved in them unless the recipient gets engraving individually. If a recipient asks for a replacement, then the replacement will have an engraving.
“Because this one doesn’t have a name, it’s very challenging,” Fike told ABC News, but at least the design and class year indicate the recipient was a World War II veteran. Fike said he hopes to first “Peterson” schools if they have a database of alumnae who served at that time. Then, he would need to narrow down the pool by contacting family members.
“You’re going to have to take their word for it,” he said.
The number of people who have received a Purple Heart is anywhere between 1.8 million to 2 million people since the award was initiated in 1932 because the government doesn’t have an exact database.
Fike, a captain on active duty with the National Guard, volunteers his time to research owners of these items during nights and weekends. Last week, a Purple Heart dug up by a dog was returned to the family of Korean War hero Richard L. Litman with Fike’s help.
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