Two years ago, Carrie Myers found a Purple Heart in a purse she bought at a Ripley thrift store. She’d been looking for the owner -- James F. Sneed -- ever since.
But after a report last week by WCHS-TV, the search went viral on Facebook and news sites -- and Capt. Zachariah Fike of the Vermont National Guard started getting emails.
Fike specializes in this area. His organization, Purple Hearts Reunited, returns dozens of Purple Hearts each year to their rightful owners.
The medal is awarded to military service members wounded or killed in the line of duty. Fike himself is a Purple Heart recipient who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Carrie should be recognized for the fact that she did the right thing,” Fike said in an interview with the Gazette. “There are people who trade these like baseball cards. The average posthumous Purple Heart will go for about $300.”
Fike heard about Sneed’s missing Purple Heart Sunday night in Denver after delivering other lost medals back to their owners.
That night, he submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis looking for information on James F. Sneed.
By the looks of the medal, Fike said, it looked like the medal was ordered as a replacement for Sneed’s original.
Officials at the National Public Records Center confirmed that the medal was a replacement and was sent to a house in Point Pleasant, West Virginia on Oct. 3, 1989, the year of Sneed’s death.
Once Fike was able to confirm Sneed’s name and birth year (1920), he looked at 1930 and 1940 U.S. Census records and found Sneed’s brothers and sisters. Sneed’s youngest brother, Joseph C. Sneed, has a daughter in Charleston.
Fike said that Myers, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, has given the medal to James Sneed’s niece.
Both James and Joseph Sneed were enlisted in the military. James Sneed earned his Purple Heart in World War II serving in the Pacific. Joseph Sneed enlisted during the Korean War, Fike said.
Fike said that he started returning Purple Hearts after he had a similar situation to Myers’ in 2009.
His mother found a Purple Heart at an antique shop and gave it to Fike as a Christmas gift.
“She paid $100 for it because she didn’t think it belonged there,” Fike said.
From the name inscribed on the medal, Fike learned everything he could about the recipient, who had died in combat in World War II.
He notified the family. Family members who had never met before came out for a ceremony.
“They experienced their first family reunion in ages,” Fike said. “It was very special.”
Now the organization has about 200 to 300 medals and dog tags that need to be returned to their recipients or families, he said.
Fike said he hopes more stories like these will follow, and was glad to see so many on social media react to the cause.
“It’s good to know hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the country appreciate what this medal stands for,” he said.
Reach Jack Suntrup at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.