Eight lost Purple Heart medals were returned to their rightful owners as part of a ceremony in New York for National Purple Heart Day.
The families of seven U.S. service members who have since passed gathered at Federal Hall on Wall Street for Monday’s ceremony.
New York City firefighter and veteran Daniel Swift was among those present. He’s the only one of the eight Purple Heart recipients still living.
“Hopefully, this will finish it off for me and I can put (what happened) away,” Daniel Swift said, before receiving back his lost medal.
Swift was wounded during the Iraq War in 2004 when a roadside bomb struck his Humvee, but he still rushed to save the life of his injured comrade.
A New York Army National Guard member and combat medic, Swift was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor, as well as a Purple Heart, which he lost soon after he received it overseas.
The explosion killed two other soldiers – the widow of one of them unveiled and presented the reclaimed Purple Heart to Swift.
“It’s bittersweet,” Swift said.
Private Frank Lymann Dunnel of Buffalo, New York, who has since died, earned his Purple Heart after being wounded in the Battle of the Somme during World War I. His medal was found in a bank decades ago, but only recently turned in, according to his great niece Frances Carlson.
“It really brings him back in a whole new dimension for me,” Carlson said.
Army Private Dan Lyle Feragen of Montana served in the Bataan Death March during World War II. He later died as a prisoner of war in the Philippines, buried in an unmarked grave and unidentified for years.
His Purple Heart was posthumously awarded to his nephew, Lyle Feragen, at Monday’s ceremony.
“It is one of the greatest honors I think can be bestowed,” Feragan said.
The eight returned medals had Vermont-based group Purple Hearts United to thank. Its founder, Zachariah Fike, is a Purple Heart recipient himself and has made it his labor of love to track down lost medals.
To date, the organization has returned more than 300 Purple Hearts, and they find as many as five each week around the country.
“I have some very good volunteer researchers out there, and we work around the clock to find these families,” Fike said.
The ceremony’s location, Federal Hall, was also George Washington’s inauguration site. The nation’s first president created the Purple Heart, which was known as the Badge of Military Merit at the time.