World War II military medals returned thanks to Purple Hearts Reunited and Connecting Vets

Julia LeDoux
August 19, 2019 - 9:59 am
Walter's Purple Heart

Photo courtesy Mitch Wakeland

When Mitch Wakeland discovered a box containing a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and World War II campaign ribbon belonging to Walter Krolikowski at his late father-in-law’s Milwaukee, Wisconsin home, there was no doubt about what had to happen.

"It's all about getting these medals to the rightful family and honoring those like Walter who served and earned these special honors," he said.

Wakeland’s father-in-law Gus Hundertmark died in 2009. When the family was going through his things they discovered a box in one of the cabinets in his home. 

“There are these medals inside, there's a Bronze Star citation with Walter's name on it,” Wakeland said. “We’ve got to find out who is doing what with these.”

Bronze Star citation
Photo courtesy Mitch Wakeland

Wakeland, a Navy veteran who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, kept the medals, but got sidetracked and forgot about them, until seeing Connecting Vets on Facebook triggered the memory.

“I thought, what the heck, I’m going to write and see if we can’t get some help here,” he said.

After Wakeland reached out to Connecting Vets, we turned to Purple Hearts Reunited . Less than 24 hours later, the organization located a member of Krolikowski’s family, who happens to live about 6 miles away from Wakeland in Milwaukee.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Gary Krolikowski, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient said of being reunited with his uncle’s medals. “I think it’s very nice.  I have mine hanging up on a board downstairs so everyone can see them.” 

 Three of Krolikowski's brothers also served in the military. 

“We all went in the service,” he said. “All four of us.”

WW II campaign ribbons
Photo courtesy Mitch Wakeland

It's unclear how Gus Hundertmark wound up with the medals, but it turns out that one of his sisters, Anita, was married to Krolikowski, explained Purple Hearts Reunited Founder Zachariah Fike.

Purple Hearts Reunited mission is to return lost, stolen and misplace military medals of valor to veterans or their families, in order to honor their sacrifice to the nation, sometimes that process can be very involved. 

“It’s important that we see the medals or the documents to establish the time period that the veteran served,” he said. “We then use a plethora of paid and public databases to systematically build a family history so that we can identify a living descendant.” 

In the case of Krolikowski, Wakeland also played Internet detective.  A document online listing the names of all of those who were awarded the Purple Heart showed Krolikowski was awarded one in 1944.

“With the original certificate I got with his Bronze Star, it matched up to the service number,” he said.

According to Fike's research Pfc. Walter J. Krolikowski was born in 1923 to Walter Benjamin and Angeline N. Krolikowski of Milwaukee. He joined the Army and served in Europe during World War II.  For his service, he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He died Nov. 29, 1963, in Wisconsin and was later buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.  At the time of his death, he was married to Anita Hundertmark. He had a brother Alexander who served with the Army Air Corps during World War II and was killed in action on Oct. 27, 1944.  He also had another brother, Benjamin, Gary Krolikowski's father.  

Fike said families like the Krolikowskis are the nation’s real heroes.

“We are quick to memorialize our veterans, but the families live with the burden of loss their entire lives,” he said. “This foundation gives us the opportunity to not only highlight the veteran’s sacrifice but to honor the families who produced that sacrifice, to tell them thanks and that we still remember.” 

To date, Purple Hearts Reunited has returned over 600 medals to families like the Krolikowskis, said Fike.

Gary Krolikowski says he plans to display his uncle’s medals next to his.

"I didn't know he even had them," Gary said.

The name says it all: Purple Hearts Reunited        

Long lost Purple Heart medals reunited with families of WWI veterans

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