MANLIUS, N.Y. – Just a toddler when her father was killed in Vietnam, Robyn DeCuffa was devastated when his Purple Heart medal disappeared from her Syracuse-area home years ago.
"The medal was really all that I did have from my father," said DeCuffa, a 51-year-old mother of eight from Cortland in central New York.
On Tuesday, DeCuffa and her mother will be reunited with Pfc. Thomas McGraw's Purple Heart, awarded after his death in an ambush in Vietnam on Feb. 1, 1966, while serving in the Army's 1st Cavalry Division.
Sarah Dallas, McGraw's widow, gave DeCuffa her father's Army medals and a photo album from his military service when she was 18. Years later, the Purple Heart disappeared while she was living outside Syracuse, where her father grew up. DeCuffa said someone likely stole the medal, but she wouldn't elaborate.
"It was a part of him I could physically hang on to," she said. "It was devastating when it was missing."
In the early 1990s, Jason Galloway found a Purple Heart on the playground at his suburban Syracuse elementary school. He later handed it in to the front office. Although McGraw's name was engraved on the back, apparently no effort was made to return it to its owner. When school ended for the year, the medal was given back to Jason, who brought it home.
Karen Galloway, Jason's mother, said the medal mostly sat in a drawer in the kitchen of her family's home in Liverpool. Every now and then, her husband would search the Internet in an effort to locate McGraw and return the medal, but had no luck finding any information. "We didn't put tons and tons of effort into it," she said.
Then, last Christmas, the now 34-year-old Jason and his wife were visiting from the Washington, D.C., area. Galloway's daughter-in-law saw the medal and asked why the family had it since Jason, an Air Force veteran, hadn't been wounded during his four-year service.
Told the story of how it was found at the school, Jason's wife said it would be "cool" to find its owner. Weeks later, the daughter-in-law called to say she had seen a local news story on Purple Hearts Reunited, a Vermont-based organization that returns lost or stolen military medals to veterans or their families.
Karen Galloway contacted the founder, Zachariah Fike, who traced the medal's origins and located DeCuffa, a manager for Capital Region Off-Track Betting, and Dallas, who lives in Mexico, New York.
"It almost feels like a miracle that this is being returned," said DeCuffa, whose second-oldest son is an Army veteran and whose second-oldest daughter is in the Air Force.
Fike will return the medal to DeCuffa and Dallas during a ceremony being held at the Cavalry Club, a former National Guard camp-turned-golf club in Manlius, outside Syracuse. Galloway and her husband plan to be there.
"I'm so excited about it," she said. "He lost his life and I think that it's really important that it gets back to his family."