Long lost Purple Heart Medals reunited with families of WWI veterans

Matt Saintsing
November 09, 2018 - 5:08 pm

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Schwoch/released

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World War I may have ended a century ago, but five war-time medals were hand-delivered to the families of those who received them for their part in the “war to end all wars.” 

Purple Hearts Reunited, a non-profit group dedicated to returning lost military medals awarded for bravery, honored the families of five World War I veterans by recovering the awards of their loved ones and placing it in their rightful hands. 

Photo by Connecting Vets

Battle with the “Red Baron”

In July 1917, 1st Lt. Jason S. Hunt was one of 25 soldiers to learn how to fly. By the time he made it overseas with the 27th Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, his job was to engage and clear enemy aircraft to make the skies safer for friendly bombers and reconnaissance planes. 

On Aug. 1st, 1918, Hunt was flying over the Chateau-Thierry sector in northern France with five other planes to protect an intelligence collection aircraft taking pictures of enemy positions. When the American planes were comfortably inside enemy territory, about 20 German aircraft commanded by Manfred von Richthofen, commonly known as the “Red Baron.” 

All but one American plane was shot down, and it is believed Hunt was instantly killed. However, he is still listed as “Missing in Action.” 

Hunt’s nephew, Howard H. Scott of Englewood, Fla. received his uncle’s Purple Heart along with some extended family. 

The Second Oldest Purple Heart Yet

Known as “Joe”, Army Sgt Gaetano Alferi was awarded Purple Heart #90, the second earliest such medal that Purple Hearts Reunited has come across, subsequent only to Purple Heart #1, which was awarded to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Photo by Connecting Vets staff

A century later, details of his service are not as complete as others in the ceremony, but he served in the 26th Infantry "Yankee" Division. Alferi was also awarded the Silver Star, the second highest award for valor. He made it through the war and passed on Sept. 3, 1981. William Healy of Lynn, Mass found his medals.

His grandson received the medal, David Lieberman of Tewksbury, Mass. 

British Pilot

The only British veteran to be honored at the ceremony was LCDR Duncan W. Drucquer, of the British Royal Air Corps. Drucquer and his co-pilot William Boyle are said to have been in an aerial engagement with The Red Baron for half an hour. 

Photo by Connecting Vets staff

Both aircraft crews had expended all of their ammo attempting to down the other plane. 

Drucquer was awarded the British War Medal with Star and the Victory Medal, an inter-Allied award. 

His medals were returned to his Great-Nephew Neal Drucquer of Norman, Oklahoma. 

The Son of a Brewer

Pvt. Leo Kammeier, of Cold Springs, Minn. was one of 13 children. His father moved to the Midwest to start work at the Cold Spring Brewing Company, which is still in business today. 

Photo by Connecting Vets staff

Kameier was trained as a cook and assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division. He went on to participate in four World War I battles and sustained wounds on October 22, 1918.

He survived the war and returned home on the same ship that brought him to Europe the USS Huntington. 

An active veteran in the years since he left service, he would go on to become the Commander of the Crichton American Legion in Minneapolis. He died on Sept. 10, 1977. 
His medals were recovered from an online collector and sent to Purple Hearts reunited, who in turn delivered it to Kammeier’s granddaughter, Rhonda Van Vliet of Brookings, Ore. 

An Animal Loving Marine

The highest-ranking service member to be honored in Friday’s ceremony, Lt. Col. Joseph D Murray was one of the first Marines sent to France at the outset of the “Great War.”

Photo by Connecting Vets staff

Before the war, Murray spent time in Mexico where he met “Jimmie,” a Coati, a mammal found in Central and South America and a member of the raccoon family. He would make Jimmie famous as he became the official mascot of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. 

A bullet struck him in the head near Soissons in northeastern France, piercing his helmet but Murray survived his wounds and the war. 

A career Marine, Murray retired in 1932 and died on April 10, 1941. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Virginia Szymanowski made the trek from Bedford, N.H. to Washington, D.C. to receive her grandfather’s Purple Heart, and says she planned on visiting the Coatis in the Smithsonian National Zoo while in town. 

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