by: JOHN BAKER - Rhonda Stone found a WWII soldier's purple heart in a storage auction. She helped to return the medal to the soldier's family.Standing with others at Woodburn Storage awaiting the auction of unclaimed merchandise in 1979, Ronda Stone asked for divine guidance. What she got was a chance to reconnect a son to a father he barely knew 34 years later through a little luck, a keen eye and an organization that specializes in just these types of things.

“I was at the auction and they started auctioning off miscellaneous boxes of stuff and I said to myself, “Lord, if there is anything in any of these boxes you want me to have, let me know.”

After passing on the first box, she got the second for $2. When she opened it, she found an item that would lead her on a quest for the next three-plus decades — the purple heart of Lowell L. Reynolds.

Right next to the medal was an old Bible and in its pages, she found words that helped her in the quest to return the medal and in everyday life.

“Discouragement is a form of doubt and disbelief, refuse it in Jesus’ name. Our great need is to know God and to know Him as the ‘God of the impossible,’ that is where He usually begins or takes over, when we are through, when we can't, when we can do nothing.”

The hunt for Lowell Reynolds would begin.

Reynolds enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1944 and lost his life in St. Croix, France, in November of that same year. He was a private in Company B, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Dvision.

And Stone wanted to see his purple heart get home.

“I tried several organizations, the phone book, a lot of different places trying to find some information on his relatives,” Stone said. “I just hung onto it, believing it would get into the right hands.”

As it turned out, social networking would turn the tide in the search. While sitting in front of her computer working with Facebook, one of the little advertisements on the right side caught her eye. It was for an organization called the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

The passion behind the pursuit

Capt. Zachariah Fike is an active officer in the U.S. Army, working full-time during the day, then dedicating two to three hours of medal searches each night — all on his own dime.

It’s a project that he’s passionate about. He’s been reuniting veterans and their families with medals since 2009, but formally incorporated Purple Hearts Reunited in 2012.

“I find these medals or they come to me and I do research on where he served and if the veteran is still alive,” Fike said. “If not, I try to find the family and reunite them with the medal.

“For the families, it’s closure after 60 or 70 years,” he added. “When they lost their loved one during the war, the medal was the last tangible item they would receive. Getting the medal back has big significance, it means a lot to them.”

Unfortunately, over time these types of things can disappear. And when they are found again, Fike and his organization are ready to find a home. He said medals have turned up in washing machines, along jogging trails and, like Stone’s, in storage lockers.

Once he’s found a home, he can do one of two things — simply mail the medal to the family or, if a family is more open, do what he called a “return ceremony.”

“I fly to the veteran’s hometown and we have an hour-long ceremony and attempt to re-recognize that veteran,” Fike said. We also offer the service of collecting all the medals the veteran earned and put them in a nice frame and present it to the family — all at no cost to the family.

“I’ve done 22 of these and I’m currently working on 100 medals waiting to be reunited with a family member,” he added. “I just think it is something that needs to be done.”

A quick response

Stone saw just how quickly the desire to get a medal reunited with a veteran or family member is. Once connected, she didn’t have to wait long for a response.

“They forwarded my question about finding his family to a group called Purple Hearts Reunited,” she said. “The very next day they sent me a note and said they’d found Lowell’s son. I guess the son never really knew the father.”

At long last, more than 30 years after acquiring a piece of American military history, Stone was able to send it home March 5.

“It really just made me feel like something has been completed,” Stone said. “That this has been brought to a wonderful end. I wrote the son a letter and told him how I’d acquired the medal and included some of the Bible notes to encourage him.

“I thought it was really neat to be able to get it back to him,” she added.

Stone has lived in Canby since 2004 and suffered the effects of a home burning down in 2006. She an ordained minister who cares for her 43 year old son, who suffered a head injury when he was 19.

Founded July 23, 2012, Purple Hearts Reunited has a very simple mission – to locate lost or stolen medals and return them to veterans or their families.

Purple Hearts Reunited Inc. is completely volunteer nonprofit 501(C)(3) Incorporation. Purple Hearts Reunited INC is now accepting donations by PayPal. All donations will go towards covering travel cost to these Veteran's hometown's, covering the cost to get his or her medals professionally framed, dedicating monuments in small towns that currently don't have one established, purchasing brick "pavers" with the Veterans name to be donated to Military Museums associated with that Veteran

Donations can also be mailed to:

Purple Hearts Reunited Inc.

P.O. Box 3

Burlington, VT 05402-0003

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