Purple Hearts Reunited halts medal returns amid coronavirus concerns

Julia LeDoux
March 23, 2020 - 1:18 pm
Purple Heart

USMC.Mil

When Mitch Wakeland found a box containing a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and World War II Campaign Medal last year, he reached out to Purple Hearts Reunited for help in finding their rightful owner. 

Within days, the medals were returned. But, now the  group's mission of returning medals of valor to veterans or their families so their service to the nation​ can be honored is being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Zachariah Fike, an active duty member of the Army who founded the non-profit, said current travel restrictions that are in place for service members and their families make it impossible for him to travel out of state to deliver the medals.

"We can rely on our Valor Guard volunteers to deliver them, but we don't believe it's wise or responsible to expose our volunteers or the families receiving the medals to this pandemic," he said.

When receiving a found medal of valor, the group uses numerous paid and public databases to build a history in order to locate its rightful owner or a living descendant.  While rightful owners will still be notified about the found medals, in-person returns have been temporarily put on hold due to the pandemic.

Fike said the organization has also had to cancel three of its upcoming fundraisers due to the pandemic.

"Without the ability to conduct returns and educate the community through the media, we will lose the valuable donations we rely on to fund the next cycle of donations," he explained.

When news of the pandemic broke, Fike said the organization stopped making contact with medal returnees.

"We have one scheduled return for May currently, but that may be rescheduled," he said. "We are planning to mail a few."

What the pandemic is not stopping is the shipment of lost medals to the group for return to their rightful owners, possibly because being at home is giving people an opportunity to get into long-neglected boxes and containers where the medals have been stored.

"I picked up a dozen new packages this week," Fike said. "We will get those inventoried and  researched."

He added that during the pandemic, the group will continue to give back to the community by creating educational content for people to watch from home that will inspire them as they "flatten the curve."

"I'm going to video some of the packages being opened,  being shipped home and provide some general history about the medal," he said.

Fike said no matter what the ultimate impact the coronavirus is on the group, it will continue to serve the families of fallen heroes.

"Even if this pause sets us back, we will rebuild in the spirit of the veterans we honor and in the meantime, we remain dedicated to returning their lost medals to them."

Medals of valor returned, thanks to Purple Hearts Reunited and Connecting Vets

Reach Julia LeDoux at Julia@connectingvets.com.

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