Purple Heart Found at Goodwill Finds Way Back to Soldier’s Family Against All Odds

purple heartWe're pretty sure Grandma never meant to throw this out. A Purple Heart was found at a Goodwill store in Lockport, New York. You know, just mixed in with the old teapots and the moth-eaten wool coats -- someone's Purple Heart! The store posted a photo of it on Facebook and ... if you think the story ends with the family seeing it online and claiming it, you're in for a surprise. It took an awful lot of sleuthing to connect that medal with its owner's family.

Linda Hatsreiter of the Veterans' Recovery Program of the Patriot Guard Riders spotted the medal online and took on the challenge of finding its rightful owner. She was remarkably persistent -- and she was successful.


Hatsreiter had the following information: The medal was engraved with the name Pvt. James E. Roland, and it was found next to a photo of him. The World War II soldier died in battle at Anzio, Italy on May 23, 1944. She started looking for people with that name in her area, but with no luck. So she searched on Findgrave.com and discovered where Roland was buried. She called every person she could find with the last name Roland and left messages. Finally, success. Mary Roland Strubel, a distant cousin of Pvt. Roland and the mayor of Westover, Pennsylvania, called Hatsreiter back.

Strubel knew almost nothing about this relative, so she looked him up on Ancestry.com and learned even more about her family tree. This weekend she and members of her family will meet with members of the Patriot Guard Riders for the handing off of the Purple Heart medal.

Isn't that amazing. Could the Purple Heart have been tracked back to its owner's family without all these online tools? Maybe ... but it would have taken even longer, I'm sure. As it is, it still took Hatsreiter a lot of time and dedication to find Mary Strubel. And now, Roland's family has much more than an artifact from the past. They also have a deeper understanding of their entire family.

If you found a medal in a thrift store, would you know where to begin tracing it back to its owner?


Image via Neeta Lind/Flickr

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