Vietnam vet hunts clues to solve mystery of lost World War II purple heart

Vietnam vet Don Crigger hopes to unravel World War II Purple Heart mystery. (Ken Newton/News-Press Now)

Vietnam vet Don Crigger hopes to unravel World War II Purple Heart mystery. (Ken Newton/News-Press Now)

A Marine vet who fought in Vietnam is searching for the owner of a lost World War II Purple Heart.

The search has turned Don Crigger into a detective of sorts who feels duty-bound to solve the mystery, the News-Press in St. Joseph, Mo., reported Sunday.

“A Purple Heart is extra special because a serviceman has shed blood for his country,” Crigger said. “It needs to be recognized, and someone needs to have that in their possession.”

Twenty years ago a friend of Crigger’s bought of box of old photo frames at an antique store in Missouri, the Huntington Herald-Dispatch in West Virginia reported last week.


A few years later she rummaged through the box and discovered the medal with the name "Pete E. Cole" engraved on it, along with a serial number.

Crigger, 74, of St. Joseph, told the Herald-Dispatch his friend has cancer and has become fixated on returning the lost medal.

The ex-Marine knew from his own research that Cole enlisted in the Army on his 20th birthday in 1942 in Huntington, but not much more than that.

The Herald-Dispatch story provided new leads.

One led to a phone call with a woman in West Virginia who married one of Cole’s brother.

The News-Press reported the woman told Crigger that Cole died 44 years ago after surviving the war and had a daughter who lived in Ohio.

Crigger is now trying to track her down with the help of Zachariah Fike of Purple Hearts Reunited. Fike offered assistance after seeing the Herald-Dispatch story.

“For a lot of these medals, specifically if it is a posthumous medal, this would have been the last tangible item that a family would ever receive of their loved one,” Fike told the News-Press.

“To be separated from something like that and then reunited with it, it has a lot of special meaning. In its own spiritual way, you’re bringing that person back to that family.”