NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Monday marked National Purple Heart Day – commemorating the creation of the oldest American military decoration for merit.
The Purple Heart is a military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The medals were awarded to veterans from World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and the war in Iraq.
And as CBS2’s Elise Finch reported, this year’s National Purple Heart Day is being celebrated by returning lost medals to the families of eight men who earned them.
For some people, the Purple Heart is all they have to remember a loved one. Nick Geasland’s father died during World War II.
“I was born in May. He was killed in July and he was overseas, so I was a baby. We never met,” Geasland said. “And he never saw me. I never saw him.”
Growing up, one of the few things Geasland had of his father’s was his Purple Heart medal. Bu as an adult, his family moved and the medal was lost for 30 years – until his daughter got an interesting phone call from a man who returns lost and stolen medals of valor to military families.
“He basically said he found woman that had found it in a house in San Diego. He would like to get it back to us, and it would be cleaned up, and polished up, and put in a frame and presented to us in a proper ceremony,” said Geasland’s daughter Nikki Greenstein.
On Monday evening, Gaesland and his daughter joined members of seven other families to be reunited with lost Purple Heart medals.
The unprecedented group ceremony was hosted by the United War Veterans Council, Daughters of the American Revolution Knickerbocker Chapter, and the nonprofit organization Purple Hearts Reunited.
“For a lot of these families, that medal was the last tangible item that they have ever received of their loved ones so it became that last thing they could touch; they could feel, and to have them reunited — essentially own spiritual way — brings that veteran back to them,” said Zachariah Fike, founder of Purple Hearts Reunited.
For the family of Army Private Dan Lyle Feragen, the process revealed that his Purple Heart had never been issued. It also answered a lot of painful questions about his military service and death as a prisoner of war during World War II.
“They never really knew what had happened exactly, so it’s been a very emotional journey,” said his nephew, Lyle Feragen.
The ceremony was held at Federal Hall, where George Washington – the founding father of the Purple Heart – was sworn in as the nation’s first president.
Not all the honors were posthumous. Among those also being honored were FDNY firefighter Daniel Swift and 1st Lieutenant Brian Woolley Flavelle.
Swift was serving in Iraq as a combat medic with the New York Army National Guard in 2004 when he was injured by a roadside bomb that killed two fellow guardsmen, who were also members of the FDNY.
Flavelle, of New Jersey, was killed in a bombing raid on Romania in 1943. His medal was recently recovered in Oregon and will be returned to his nephews.