Lost Purple Heart given to family of WWI vet 100 years later

Matt Saintsing
August 07, 2018 - 5:10 pm

Photo by Army Sgt. William Frye

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It’s said to be the military award nobody wants. That’s because a Purple Heart is earned only through the bloodshed of war, which is also why the medal is so highly respected by all who see it pinned on anyone’s chest. 

Over 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded to American service members injured in combat, but over time, these medals can turn up lost, stolen or otherwise misplaced. That's why Purple Hearts Reunited has made it their mission to reconnect these symbols of sacrifice to the medal's rightful owner, or surviving families. 

Through research, Zachariah Fike, the group’s founder, is said to be able to track anyone down, especially if it means returning a long lost honor. A ceremony in Washington, D.C Tuesday, proved just that when they presented seven Purple Hearts to surviving family members of World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans and another to a living veteran of the Iraq War. 

Private First Class Joseph Hish, was one of those honored. 

Photo by Matt Saintsing

He fought in World War I with Company A, 341st Machine Gun Battalion, 177th Brigade of the 89th Infantry Division, and fought during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, a 47-day battle that lasted from the end of September 1918 to Armistice Day, November 11. Pfc. Hish earned the Purple Heart when his unit was attacked with sulfur mustard, commonly known as mustard gas. 

Hish survived World War I and lived a full life until he passed away on December 29, 1965, in Sioux City, Iowa. He was 70 years old. 
To receive the medal was Hish’s 90-year old son, Joseph Mark Hish, III and his grandson, Joseph Mark Hish IV. 

Hish’s son said he was “so grateful” for Purple Hearts Reunited. When Fike called Hish at his home in Nebraska to tell him they tracked down his father’s medal, Hish thought it was a prank at first. But as details emerged, the full weight of his father’s sacrifice set in.

Pfc. Hish’s grandson added that the ceremony was “inspirational” and “very touching to see the sacrifices a lot of these people made, and what they went through for our freedoms.” 

But Purple Hearts Reunited isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Since 2012, the nonprofit has returned more than 500 medals found in old abandoned homes, buried underground, at beaches with the help of a metal detector, and even one discovered on an airport tarmac. Fike said the organization is committed to returning any Purple Heart turned in to him.

"If you can envision a situation where medals are lost, we probably heard of it,” he said.

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