Receiving a Purple Heart is a special honor for those who risk their life fighting for this country. That is why Capt. Zachariah Fike, a veteran of Afghanistan, founded Purple Hearts Reunited to reunite lost Purple Hearts with the families of the soldier. For the first time, last month, Fike was able to reunite a Purple Heart with the actual recipient, World War II veteran George Hemphill.
The tradition of giving a Purple Heart began during the Revolutionary Wary. Then it was called the Badge of Military Merit. Created by George Washington, he awarded the Badge of Military Merit to soldiers who went above and beyond the call of duty. The badge was purple fabric fashioned into a heart and is thought to be the first to honor common soldiers for their deeds. Only a number of soldiers received one during the Revolutionary War, and after the war the tradition fell into disuse. That is until Congress revived it after World War I, calling it the Purple Heart.
Awarded in the name of the President, it is given to members of the Armed Forces wounded or killed in battle. George Hemphill, who was enlisted in the US Army, was wounded in France in 1944. Shrapnel from enemy fire left him blinded for three weeks. While recovering in the field hospital, he sent the Purple Heart home, but it never got there. In 2000, it was bought at an antique store in South Carolina by veteran Bob Blum, who held onto it for ten years. After hearing of Fike’s Purple Hearts Reunited, headquartered in Vermont, Blum mailed the medal to him, hoping he could reunite it with its owner.
A few years after that, Fike finally tracked down Army Crp. George Hemphill in Union Mills, North Carolina. The ninety year old finally received his purple heart in a ceremony on January 20th. Not only that, he also received a Bronze Star that was awarded to him during World War II, but which he never got. He also earned a Combat Infantryman Badge, European African Middle Eastern Medal w/ 3 Combat Stars, Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory Medal, American Theater Service Medal, and Honorable Service Lapel Pin.
Who knows where that Purple Heart was between 1944 and 2000, or why it took so long for it to find its way home. But it did, and, in doing so, a veteran got recognition for his actions and bravery over 70 years ago.
Even if your loved one doesn’t have a Purple Heart, that does mean you can’t honor them for their service. Military pins are an inexpensive but effective way of showcasing one’s service. We have a history of honoring our servicemen through badges and pins. Thankfully, this story of a WWII veteran and his lost Purple Heart ended with the soldier getting the glory and distinction he deserved.
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Chuck Stevens is an avid blogger always looking to share his experiences and recommendations. You can follow him on Twitter @chuckstevens12.