AFA Journal staff writer
May 2018 – The family receives the medal signifying a military relative’s act of courage and sacrifice – wounded or killed in combat. Thirty military veterans act as valor guard to help return the Purple Heart to its family. The fallen are remembered, the living healed.
The restoration of a Purple Heart to its rightful home is the daily work of Zac Fike and Sarah Corry, founder and development director respectively, of Purple Hearts Reunited.
Active duty U.S. Army soldier Fike has been deployed multiple times over the past 20 years. Purple Hearts Reunited began shortly after his first deployment.
“I was looking for an outlet to deal with some of the stressors that I experienced in my combat deployment,” he told AFA Journal. “A friend of mine collected antiques and began taking me along on these treasure hunts. I was surprised to find discarded military items within these shops: helmets, military uniforms, medals. It really broke my heart because I come from a long line of military tradition. I began to rescue these items.
“Then, in 2009, my mom purchased as a present for me a posthumous Purple Heart that had been awarded to a soldier of World War II. It really just didn’t sit right with me, and I knew I had to get it back to its family. We were able to do that successfully, and that’s what sparked Purple Hearts Reunited.”
Purple Hearts Reunited has now returned over 400 Purple Hearts to veterans and their family members, and it continues to receive 3-5 recovered medals each week. The staff of Purple Hearts Reunited – made up entirely of volunteers who are veterans or have a family connection to military service – research to locate the living heirs to each missing medal, have it custom framed to keep the name engraving visible, and then travel to the owner’s hometown to deliver it personally in a ceremony in which they detail the medal’s history and the veteran’s act of service.
“It’s really overwhelming to be a part of; it has changed my life,” Corry told AFAJ. “I’m the daughter of a Marine Vietnam veteran, who’s also a two-time Purple Heart recipient. So I personally know the meaning behind these medals, and to be able to give that back to a family means everything. It provides them with closure. Sometimes, they hear about their family’s history for the very first time. It brings families who have had rifts back together again. It is also very cathartic for our veterans who are involved as valor guards in the ceremony. The healing quality is very hard to describe; you just have to feel it.”
With an average turn around time of 24-48 hours, and several hundred medals currently in the process of being returned to their homes, Purple Hearts Reunited works tirelessly to honor and remember the service of each Purple Heart recipient.
“At the end of the day,” Fike said, “we get to honor men and women who have sacrificed for their country, and every day we witness the impact that has on people’s lives. We owe it to them to preserve their legacy, to tell their stories, and to make sure that they’re never forgotten.”
Of 45,000 veteran-related nonprofits, Purple Hearts Reunited is the only one to rescue Purple Hearts.
“We’re leading this effort in the country, and we’re proud to do that,” Fike told AFAJ. August 7 is National Purple Heart Day, when Purple Hearts Reunited will hold a large-scale return ceremony. Readers can help by collecting, returning, and reporting missing Purple Hearts to Purple Hearts Reunited.
P.O. Box 2121
Georgia, VT 05468
Military Order of the Purple Heart
Chartered by Congress, MOPH is an organization that fosters and advocates for those wounded in combat.