SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A Purple Heart honors the sacrifice military members made serving overseas, honoring those who were killed or wounded. 

Michael Walton with the American Legion said the medal is an honor that recognizes a veteran’s ultimate sacrifice.

“It’s bad enough being in a war, but then those that something happened to where they received the Purple Heart where they were shot, or whatever might have happened to them, there’s a lot to be said, for those people,” Walton said. “America owes those people a lot.”

But over the years, some have lost those medals.

Now, the treasurer’s office is looking to track down the owners of 11 Purple Hearts to give back to them as part of “Operation Purple Heart.”

“These medals deserve to be in the warm embrace of their family, not sitting in a cold vault in Springfield,” Treasurer Michael Frerichs, said.

These are the people that the 11 medals belong to and where they lived:

  • Robert Cawthon 
  • Raymond Wilson, Chicago 
  • Lawrence M. Burns, Homewood and he now might live in a remote area in California.
  • Linda K. Moore, Peoria, Ill.  
  • Bernice Smith, Oak Park, Ill. 
  • David Gorski, Darien, Ill.
  • Vincent G. Tuttle, Decatur, Ill. 
  • Toni Alexander, Channahon, Ill. but the Purple Heart recipient was Private Charles J. Alexander 
  • Isbell Servina, Mary A. Shayer or Vincent P. Shayer, may have lived in Chicago
  • Michelle Steward or Patricia VanHasselaere, may have lived in Round Lake, Ill. 
  • Kenneth Wiest, may have lived in O’Fallon, Ill. 

The recipients of the hearts kept them in bank security deposit boxes that were untouched for years. And as the treasurer, Frerichs said any unclaimed property in those boxes gets turned over to him. 

In the past, Frerichs’ office reunited seven awardees with their medals, including one to a veteran living in Mississippi.

“We called him up and said we had his Purple Heart and asked where we should mail it,” Frerichs said. “He said, ‘Do not put that in the mail. I don’t trust the postal service. I will drive up and get it,’ [and he] said ‘I’ve been looking for that medal for the last 15 years, and I’m not going to take any chances and lose it again.’”

When people come forward to claim the Purple Heart, Frerichs said his office verifies that the medal belongs to that person or their family because they have the names and social security numbers of the people who used the safety deposit box.

“The owner of that box has to claim it or provide proof that they are the legitimate heir of that safety deposit box,” Frerichs said. “Someone coming off the street can’t just claim a medal that doesn’t belong to them. You can’t buy that honor, you can’t claim that honor.”

Walton, a veteran himself, says it would mean a lot to those veteran’s families to get those purple hearts back.

“I think it’s an honor for them to have that or their family because it really shows their sacrifice for our country,” Walton said.