ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The Purple Heart, the nation’s oldest military decoration, is awarded to those who died or were wounded in combat.

It’s a symbol of American bravery and sacrifice dating back to George Washington, but sometimes, they lose their way.

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“It was given to us by a friend who found it in furniture from an estate sale somewhere in Florida,” said Fort Myers, Florida, resident Brenda Carlson.

The Purple Heart found itself tucked in a sofa, then in the hands of Carlson, who was asked by a friend to try to find its home.

“She just said, ‘I have this Purple Heart medal. Maybe you can find out who it belongs to,'” Carlson said.

That was the easy part. His name is etched into the medal: Charles W. Crabbe. In the box was an obituary.

Crabbe, an army sergeant, it said, was shot down in a bombing mission over Germany in 1944.

His parents were from Rockville Centre, Long Island.

The hard part? Finding living family to return the medal.

“Emails were not returned, letters were not returned,” Carlson said.

CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff found their house and Madelyn McCarson-Lizzio, who grew up next door.

She remembers the Crabbes, Gladys and Charles B., who lost their only child.

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“They were devastated. They were lonely, sad,” McCarson-Lizzio said.

Once widowed, she believes Gladys moved to the Orlando area and has since died.

In Veterans Park in Rockville Centre, her son’s sacrifice is noted on a bronze plaque.

Finding living relatives of lost Purple Hearts is the mission of the group Purple Hearts Reunited, which has helped more than 800 grateful families because each one tells the story of blood shed for our nation.

“It is our mission to remember them and make sure that their stories are told and never ever forgotten,” said Erin Faith Allen with Purple Hearts Reunited.

Their research found Crabbe worked for Grumman before the war, and he was missing in action then declared dead at just 23 years old. He’s buried in Belguim.

“His whole crew was shot down … Out of all nine of them, seven were captured,” Allen said.

If there are living relatives, Carlson wants them to have his medal.

“If you went to war, you deserve to receive the awards. It needs to be with the family,” she said.

If not, the group can find a “Home of Honor,” such as a local museum, for a Purple Heart so that stories like Crabbe’s are never lost.

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To learn more about Purple Hearts Reunited, visit purpleheartsreunited.org.

Carolyn Gusoff