A Purple Heart medal found in a pile of costume jewelry at an Arizona flea market was returned to its rightful home on Veterans Day, following a months-long search by the buyer to find out more about the soldier whose name was engraved on the back.
Matt Carlson, a 59-year-old Vietnam veteran from Glendale, found the medal last February and bought it for $40, according to the Arizona Republic.
“If I lost something like that, I would want my family to have it back,” he told the newspaper. “It’s something that can never be replaced.”
The medal came engraved with the name “Clarence M. Merriott” on the back, in addition to two letters that Merriott wrote to his father and family. One of the letters was addressed to Stilwell, Okla.
With the help of his son, Carlson searched the Internet and found a veterans organization dedicated to preserving history of the Army’s 300th Combat Engineers who served in World War II. They discovered that Merriott was among the more than 300 men in the battalion who were killed in action on the way to Normandy in the wake of the Allied D-Day landing.
After Carlson got in contact with Stilwell’s local history museum, Wanda Eliott, of the Adair County Historical and Genealogical Association, paged through census records and newspaper articles to find out more information about Merriott, the Arizona Republic reports.
Eliott found that Merriott’s name was part of a memorial in the town that honored those who died in World War II, and she was able to get in contact with some of his distant relatives.
The family said the medal was lost during a family member’s move, but could not explain how it ended up for sale in Arizona.
Merriott’s relatives asked for the medal and letters to be showcased in the Adair County Historical and Genealogical Association Museum in Stilwell so others could see it.
The medal was presented at a program Monday at Stilwell High School, where 11 Purple Heart recipients were in attendance, including Carlson, who drove 1,200 miles to Oklahoma.
“It shines a light back on this generation that we’re losing,” Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., told the Arizona Republic. Mullin’s grandfather served with Merriott and he helped plan the ceremony.