A Digital Veteran’s Tribute

Purple Heart

My apologies if what follows relates to nothing in particular from this week’s assignments. It does, however, relate to all the best that the web can do for us. It is also all I can think of right now because the story has reached its digital climax today. If people are worried about losing meaningful connections to those around them because of an over-reliance on internet technology, here’s a Veteran’s Day story about reconnecting.

My wife’s grandfather, born in 1894, was 23 years old when he joined the United States Army and served in France during WWI. In October of 1918, at the Argonne Forest, his unit came under attack, killing everyone but him. Though he had been shot in the thigh and through the hand, he was able to kill the enemy sniper that had destroyed his unit. After spending two months in a French hospital, he returned to the United States and was discharged from the service in April of 1919. He returned to his home in Bark River, Michigan, and the quiet life of a farmer.

In 1941 he was awarded the Purple Heart, and for many years after that, the medal sat on top of his dresser, underneath the portrait of him in his military uniform.

After his death in 1980, my wife’s grandmother needed to move to a smaller place, and as is typically the case, Items are given away. The Purple Heart went to my wife’s uncle. Years went by, as they always do. My wife’s uncle died, then his wife died, and eventually their son moved out of their house. When the house was being cleaned out, the Purple Heart could not be found.

That was a number of years ago. Every once in a while my wife and her mom talk about her grandpa, their memories, and his service. They share what little information they have, but are always left with the sadness that his military artifacts have probably been sold, with little thought of how costly they were to earn.

Enter a technological Veteran’s Day miracle. This morning, my wife was at the computer, again trying to find more information about her grandfather. For some reason, she searched images this time, found a picture of a Purple Heart, and followed that link to a site honoring wounded and fallen veterans. There was an entry for her grandfather, and the medal pictured beside his information had his name engraved on it.

The owner of the site collects Purple Hearts, researches the individual who is named on the medal, and posts the information and available pictures as a veterans memorial.

Jody, my wife, contacted the man who ran the site, told him the family’s story, and said that she would like to be able to buy back the medal in order to give it to her mom. He normally does not do such things, but he was touched by Jody’s words, and the Purple Heart is coming home.

Here is a connection to family that was lost–most likely sold. Through the internet, that connection can be re-established, at least to some degree. It is truly amazing to think what individuals can do and who they can touch as a result of digital technology. When my wife’s grandfather left the military, he could not read or write. He left his mark, an “x” on his discharge papers. He also left his mark on his family, and to a degree, the democracy we benefit from today. And sites like the one my wife stumbled across today are sharing that mark with the world.

About Rob_Henseler

Rob has been teaching high school English and Language Arts for 20 years. When he's not at school, he enjoys making and listening to music, woodworking, canoeing, and hands-on traditional skills.

Posted on November 12, 2012, in Creative, Social Media, Society. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This is an amazing story, Rob. ALL OF IT! Thank you for sharing. I am so happy for your wife and family. What an amazing gift to be able to give her mother. I can only imagine the emotional moment that will be!!

    This is one of THE best stories I can think of to read today: both in your wife’s grandfather’s sacrifice and the fact that your wife and her mother did not forget. Amazing that technology brought this part of his service back home and allows others to share through reading your post. I’d say it fits very well!!

    Thank you veterans!

  2. Truly amazing. I couldn’t help but be choked up reading your entry. This is exactly the kind of connection that represents the best of what the Internet has to offer. An intention disappears into the ether and, as if by magic, what was lost returns. For all of the negatives the Internet brings, it is things like this that make you marvel at it.

  3. What a truly awesome experience for your family. Beyond that, it’s a great example of how communication technologies can bring people (families) together. I’m curious, did your wife have to look long or hard to find the Purple Heart?

    In a similar vein, my husband and I bought our house about two years ago. It was built in the 1920s, and the seller’s realtor told us there was a restaurant in town that had a very old photo of it on the wall. I knew a photo existed, so I sifted through photos on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website, got lucky, and found it. Not quite as amazing as a family heirloom, but the old photo of our home is truly priceless–it provided us with a connection to its history and the past. I would have never found it if it wasn’t available to be found on the Internet.


  4. Lana,

    That’s a great house. Looks like it would be fun to grow up in because of the three stories. I love the style of windows.

    As for my wife’s experience, she’s searched before, but the search began again on Sunday, when Jody was checking in with her Facebook account. She saw that other people had posted their own family Veterans’ Day pictures and wished she had something of her grandpa to post. This time she typed just the right search terms–her grandpa’s name and “purple heart.” That was all it took this time. Other searches in the past were unproductive, but this one worked.

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