Purple Heart award makes its way back home with the help of a few patriotic citizens.
Army Cpl. George Hemphill returned to North Carolina after fighting in World War II many years ago and vowed to put the horrors of life as an infantryman behind him. That included not inquiring about the Purple Heart he received and mailed home for safekeeping. Image his surprise when he found out a Florida man actually bought the medal back in 2000 at an antique shop in South Carolina. Since then the heart made its way to Vermont with a man that plans on giving Hemphill the honor he deserves with a special ceremony.
Now 90-years-old, Hemphill said he was flabbergasted at the news and never believed he would ever see the medal again. He is grateful for the work people are doing for him, even though it is out of their way. The veteran and his purple heart will finally be reunited at a community center as Capt. Zachariah Fike, head of the nonprofit Purple Hearts Reunited, presents the award along with a Bronze Star Hemphill never knew the military granted him.
Fike started his nonprofit group back in 2009 and has since reunited 20 awards with their rightful owners, a family member, or museum. However this ceremony has a little extra sentiment to it. This will be the first time Fike returns a Purple Heart to a living recipient.
“Returning these medals brings closure to the families. I absolutely love doing it,” said Fike, noting donations don’t nearly cover his expenses of buying the Purple Hearts and travel to present them. “I’ve spent quite a bit of money on this project. I would do it 10 times over because it’s the right thing to do.”
Hemphill received the Purple Heart in 1944 after he was hit by shrapnel from enemy fire and was blinded for three weeks. While still lying in a hospital bed, he mailed the award back home to his mother and never asked about it again. His family never knew he won it since he never talked about the war.
Nobody knows the exact whereabouts of the Purple Heart until October 2000 when a Florida man bought it from an antique store. When he could not find the owner, he kept it safe for more than a decade until he was connected to Fike who tracked Hemphill down.
Hemphill commented, “I’m not the hero. The heroes are still over there – the ones that didn’t come back. They’re the real heroes.” George Hemphill does not believe he deserves the ceremony, but his family thinks differently and is determined to properly honor the veteran who protected his country and American flag so well.
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Credit: Huffington Post