The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 11, 2013

Teen, grandpa team to reunite medal with Vietnam vet

Star Beacon

— For a minute, 15-year-old Devyn Adkins of Conneaut couldn’t believe what he was seeing — and holding.

Rummaging through a box of military artifacts, one item quickly jumped out to the teen with a keen interest in history: a Purple Heart, the medal given to military personnel wounded or killed in combat. That find put Devyn and his grandfather, Lynn Chapman of Conneaut on a quest to reunite the medal with its owner that reached a happy conclusion a few weeks ago.

A few months ago, Devyn was invited by a neighbor to examine a box of military memorabilia the neighbor acquired at a yard sale. Among the items was a scrapbook and something else instantly recognizable to the Conneaut High School honor student.

“I really have an interest in the military,” Devyn said. “I recognized the Purple Heart design. (The neighbor) didn’t know what he had.”

At first, the Conneaut High School honor student had some doubts.

“I wasn’t sure if it was real or not,” he said. “Not many people see them, let alone feel them.”

Devyn asked his grandfather, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, to help track down the owner. Chapman’s only real clue were the photos in the scrapbook that accompanied the medal: all were printed at a Butler, Pa., photo shop, he said.

When an Internet search proved a dead end, Chapman turned to that area’s Veterans Service Commission for help. VSC members in turn recommended he contact a American Legion post in Butler for ideas. Chapman eventually discovered Paul Winters, historian at American Legion Post 117, who took a personal interest in the project. After Chapman and his wife delivered the scrapbook and medal to the Post 117, Winters went to work, Chapman said.

“(Winters) took over from there,” he said.

One of the photos from the scrapbook — believed to be a soldier named “Bill,” based on a letter in the book — was published in the Butler Eagle, the local newspaper, along with a notice that read “If you recognize this soldier...we have memorabilia from Vietnam that belongs to him.”

Winters, who placed the notice, was contacted by a woman who thought the soldier in the photo resembled a second cousin, Bill Hillard. The woman told Winters she would double-check with relatives. Two days later, Winters received a call from Hillard, a Butler, Pa., native now living in Erie, Pa.

“I asked him if he was ever entitled to a Purple Heart,” Winters told the Butler Eagle. “He said yes, to two of them, but he only ever received one.”

After decades, the medal had finally come home.

“It was totally amazing,” Hillard told the Butler newspaper. “I couldn’t believe it. I’m very thankful to everyone who helped return the medal.”

Chapman said a lot of people played a role in the successful mission.

“Luck was with us,” he said. “A lot of people down the line took an interest in the resolution.”

Devyn said there was no chance he would allow the medal to remain forgotten in a box.

“My neighbor and I didn’t feel it was right to keep it from somebody,” he said. “I just hope if I ever lost one somebody would give it back to me.”