Illinois State Treasurer’s Operation Purple Heart: Seeking Public Assistance to Return Medals Ahead of Memorial Day

As Memorial Day approaches, Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs has renewed his call for public help in returning a dozen Purple Heart medals to their rightful owners. These medals, currently held by the state’s unclaimed property program, represent profound sacrifices made by military personnel.

“These Purple Hearts are priceless,” Frerichs stated during a recent news conference. “We’re committed to ensuring these medals find their way back to their rightful owners.”

Operation Purple Heart: A Mission of Honor

Launched in November 2021, Operation Purple Heart aims to reunite unclaimed military medals with their owners or their families. Throughout his nine-year tenure, Frerichs has successfully returned ten medals. However, a dozen Purple Hearts remain unclaimed among the billions of dollars in unclaimed property held by the treasurer’s office.

Unclaimed assets such as bank accounts, investment products, and safe deposit boxes are turned over to the state after years of inactivity. By law, the agency must attempt to return all unclaimed property, but military medals, especially Purple Hearts, pose unique challenges. These medals often lack specific identifying engravings, and the names associated with the unclaimed property do not always match the names of the medal recipients. Additionally, the federal government does not maintain a comprehensive list of Purple Heart recipients, complicating the identification process.

The Purple Heart: A Symbol of Valor and Sacrifice

The Purple Heart is one of the nation’s oldest military honors, dating back to the Revolutionary War. Over 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded since 1932, recognizing those wounded or killed in service. Initially exclusive to soldiers, the honor was extended to all service branches and some civilians by Congress in 1942.

**Recent Discoveries and Efforts**

Among the recently acquired medals are four displayed in their original black cases, adorned with the image of President George Washington and a purple ribbon. Other unclaimed military honors include a Bronze Star and an Air Force medal. These medals deserve to be with their families, not stored in a vault in Springfield.

One notable case involves a Purple Heart found in a bank safe deposit box under the name Nancy Johnston from Frankfort. Alongside the Purple Heart were a Good Conduct medal and an Air Force medal. Frerichs hopes that someone in the community may remember Johnston or her family, providing a crucial lead.

Recent Success Stories

The treasurer’s office recently returned a Purple Heart to the daughter of a Marine Corps private who served in World War II. The veteran, wounded in combat, lived with a permanent limp and passed away in 1988. His daughter received the medal in Elmwood last November.

Frerichs shared another touching story of a veteran who thought his Purple Heart was lost forever. After his mother’s death, he discovered the medal in a safe deposit box listed in the state’s unclaimed property database. Overcome with emotion, the veteran drove from Mississippi to Illinois to personally retrieve his medal.

Public Appeal and Ongoing Efforts

A complete list of the 12 unclaimed Purple Hearts and their associated information is available on the treasurer’s office website. These medals include ones from banks in Oak Park under the names Robert Cawthon and Bernice Smith, and one from Park Ridge belonging to Jerome A. Even.

Frerichs emphasized the joy and fulfillment that come with reuniting these medals with their families, expressing his hope to conduct more of these meaningful ceremonies in the future.

As Memorial Day nears, Frerichs’s renewed plea for public assistance highlights the ongoing dedication to honoring the bravery and sacrifice of military personnel by returning these cherished symbols to their rightful places.