The following post was written by Cathi Desmarais, CG, the Volunteer Initiative Programs Coordinator for CAFG:
On this Memorial Day weekend, the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG) is proud to announce our partnership with Purple Hearts Reunited as CAFG’s newest Volunteer Initiative Program. Capt. Zachariah Fike of the Vermont Army National Guard has established Purple Hearts Reunited, Inc., a non-profit organization that “rescues” lost or stolen Purple Heart medals and returns them to the family of the serviceman/woman who earned them. He established the program in 2012 when he was given the gift of a WWII Purple Heart medal found in an antique shop. Having earned his own Purple Heart as a combat-wounded veteran in Afghanistan, he understood the deep significance of the medal and wanted to return it to the family in which it belonged. After finding the grateful family, more medals came his way and this mission was born. He has returned 60+ medals in the short time since then, and has at least 180 more that are waiting to be reunited.
I met with Capt. Fike to discuss how CAFG might be able to assist him, and was impressed with his sincerity and commitment. “Return” is too simple a word to describe what Capt. Fike does with the medals. After he locates the family, he has the medal professionally framed. He then arranges a ceremony, as public or private as the family wishes, to honor the medal recipient. He speaks about the serviceman’s military career and about the history of the medal. The family speaks about their loved one. Members of the local congressional delegation and veteran’s groups may participate as well. Often these ceremonies bring extended family together for the first time, and sometimes the entire town turns out. These ceremonies have triggered unexpected positive experiences, and Capt. Fike told me some touching stories.
It’s important to note that these return ceremonies, from the medal to the framing to the airline ticket and all accommodations, are done at Capt. Fike’s expense. There is no funding form the military or other public source. Just recently he established non-profit status in order to accept donations to defray expenses, and his website was launched just last week. He also has a Facebook page for the project. If you can consider a donation, there is a donation link on his website.
If you would like to read more about Capt. Fike and his project, the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press published an article about the project recently. Story Corps has a video about his first medal return.
Capt. Fike has done a tremendous job rescuing these medals and bringing them home to their families. I am proud that we at CAFG can assist him in a small way.
If you are interested in learning more about CAFG’s involvement with Purple Hearts Reunited, please feel free to contact Cathi Desmarais, CG.