A Purple Heart Returns Home

A Purple Heart has finally found its way home after mistakenly surfacing January in a box of donations at a Salvation Army Store in New York. The medal was found with a certificate and photo of a young soldier, and figuring the valuable honor was not intended to be given away, Salvation Army staff had few clues to direct them to the rightful owner.

The certificate described the award of Sgt. Richard E. Owen “for military wounds received in action resulting in his death on June 6, 1944,” but no one knew who dropped off the donation, if Sgt. Owen was even from the New York area, or the names of his living family members. However, after thorough research, Salvation Army Captain Ronald Heimbrock discovered Sgt. Owen was from the “Easy” Company Paratroopers, 101st Airborne Division, whose mission in Europe during WWII inspired the popular HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.”

Capt. Heimbrock contacted the local newspaper to run a story in hopes of finding someone with a connection, which was then picked up by AP who distributed stories across the country. Soon, the American Legion reached out to Capt. Heimbrock to assist in the search by posting information on their blog. (Click here to read a story discussing the myterious details surrounding the Purple Heart and Capt. Heimbrock’s efforts.)

When the Winchester Virginia newspaper wrote an article on the matter, the reporter was approached by a woman named Ellen Marshall, the great niece of Richard Owen, with a photo album containing pictures of her great uncle. She explained that she and her sister Susanne Marshall helped take care of the estate of Sgt. Owen’s widow, their great aunt Ruth McCann, after she passed in 2002, which is how they came into care of the Purple Heart and mistakenly gave it away amidst of a box of other items.

With the mystery finally solved, a ceremony honoring Sgt. Owen was held on Armed Forces Day in James Island, SC, during which Susanne Marshall was presented with her great uncle’s Purple Heart and certificate. Many shared in the joy of knowing Sgt. Owen’s family was reunited with the important symbol of the man’s sacrifice to his country. Salvation Army Capt. Ronald Heimbrock was  present, along with Mark Seavey of the American Legion.

Click here to read the American Legion’s story of this very special event and highly anticipated reunion.