NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A long-lost military honor is now back where it belongs.
As CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported, the Purple Heart medal is only given to those killed or wounded in action. So why did one end up lying on the road in Rockland County, with the owner nowhere to be found?
“One day I looked down and there it was,” said retired plumber Joseph “Dusty” Ridlon.
Ridlon was just walking down West Broadway in Central Nyack a decade ago when he found the military medal.
“I picked it up,” he said. “I knew exactly what it was. I knew because my father has one.”
Ridlon said he put the medal into a box and forgot about it until this month. But he knew he had to get it to its rightful owner.
But all it says on the back is “for military merit,” and “B.J. McNamara, Dec. 9, 1943.”
There is no registry for Purple Heart recipients. Although the medal had the name B.J. McNamara engraved on it, there were many men with the same name who served in World War II.
Ridlon gave the ring to a friend who brought it to the Blauvelt American Legion Post in Nyack, where an all-out search got under way.”
“When I looked at it, it really struck a chord,” said Blauvelt American Legion Post 310 Cmdr. Anthony DelRegno.
DelRegno said his troops were suddenly on a mission.
“I asked our historian if he could research it,” DelRegno said. “He spent hours and hours and hours running into wall after wall.”
But the story did not end there.
“We’ve solved the mystery of the missing purple heart,” said U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Schumer’s office got involved, and after weeks of painstaking research, they found Staff Sgt. Bernard J. McNamara’s children living in the Bronx.
“It was sort of like finding a needle in a haystack,” Schumer said.
“That’s very special,” McNamara’s daughter Catherine Birong said Sunday. “My dad was a very quiet, humble man. Having these medals given back to us is great.”
Birong said her hero father was wounded in Italy and was even captured by the Nazis. He died in 1975.
The last time she saw the medal was when her mother gave it to some cousins in the Bronx in the early1960s.
“She got them dressed up, and she pinned the medals on, and she told me go out and play soldier,” Briong said.
Some of those cousins lived in Rockland County, and that was probably how the military’ highest honor wound up next to a curb.
“Having these medals given back to us is great,” Birong said.
And Ridlon only has one regret.
“I’m sorry it took so long to give back to them,” he said. “I’m happy that the people got it that deserve it.”
McNamara received the medal after being shot and then captured and imprisoned by the Germans for 472 days.