Missing For Decades, Medals Return To Families Of The Fallen

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(Host) Zachariah Fike of Burlington has been a National Guard member in New York, West Virginia and Vermont for the past 13 years and has had three deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

About eight years ago, he started collecting military artifacts. But it was one medal in particular that he received a few years ago that started him on a mission.

VPR’s Ric Cengeri reports.

(Cengeri) On Christmas Day in 2009, Vermont Army National Guard Captain Zachariah Fike received a Purple Heart as a gift from his mother. Fike was ecstatic about the present and upon closer inspection, he knew this medal had particular significance.

(Fike) "The soldier’s name was engraved on the back, which right away is a sign that he died during his service."

(Cengeri) The name it bore was Private Corrado A. G. Piccoli. Fike decided that he needed to return the Purple Heart to Piccoli’s family. He started an exhaustive search to learn more about the soldier and to locate his surviving relatives.

Captain Fike found the private’s sisters and arranged a ceremony in Watertown, N.Y., Piccoli’s hometown. He had a special shadow box built, invited local dignitaries and, on August 1, 2011, returned the medal to the family. The Piccolis turned the event into a reunion and have adopted Fike as part of their family.

(Fike) "It’s wonderful, you know. I don’t take credit for it. I probably should. I just feel like I’m just the messenger, really. And it’s the right thing to do. I wish more Americans across the country would do this."

(Cengeri) As word spread of Fike’s efforts, he was contacted by Larry Moore of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. More than 50 years ago, Moore’s grandfather found a Purple Heart and it was passed down from one generation to the next.

When Moore inherited it, he contacted the Order of the Purple Heart, which got in touch with Fike. It didn’t take the Guardsman long to locate Connie Bachman of Lexington, Mass., the sister of Thomas E. Hadley II, the medal’s recipient.

(Fike) "In this guy’s case, they gave the medals to his wife. He had married two weeks before going to Korea. So they sent the medals to her in Seattle, Washington, and then they lost contact with her. So throughout her life she had possibly [misplaced] them."

(Cengeri) Captain Fike is making arrangements to return a third Purple Heart to a soldier’s family in Alabama. That ceremony is expected to take place in May. But it probably won’t be his last Purple Heart project.

(Fike) "Wounded veterans, they’re somewhat forgotten over time. And that’s a shame. It’s unfortunate. They should always be honored. They paid a sacrifice for their country."

For VPR News, I’m Ric Cengeri.

(Host) Captain Fike received his own Purple Heart after being wounded in Bagram, Afghanistan, on September 11, 2010.

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