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

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.”

Pete E. Cole's Purple Heart was found in a Missouri antique store years ago.

Pete E. Cole's Purple Heart was found in a Missouri antique store years ago. (Ken Newton/News-Press Now)

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.

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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.

Pete E. Cole's Purple Heart.

Pete E. Cole's Purple Heart. (Ken Newton/News-Press Now)

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.”