Purple Heart Returned to Family of World War II Soldier 76 Years From His Death

by Matthew Memrick

A Houston family got back their uncle’s Purple Heart medal 76 years after the late soldier earned the award after his World War II death.

“It (had) been sitting in the bottom of a tackle box,” nephew Kirt Ashman told NBC 2 Houston recently. “Now it’s in my hand. How many years later? It’s an amazing story.”

Cpl. Edward J. Ryan died on March 27, 1945. An artillery shell hit the 22-year-old’s tank in the Netherlands. The United States honored the Minnesota resident posthumously, but the medal vanished.

Recently, two men found the award. The medal was in a metal box 20 miles from Ryan’s former Minnesota home. 

According to the Houston Chronicle, Ben Johnson was looking for a book in July in his father’s house. He found a rusty metal box buried deep in a dresser drawer. The man opened the box to find screws, keys, and other stuff. Under a removable tray, he came across the Purple Heart. 

Johnson then started his search to find the family of the medal. He searched the internet, and soon, the award was in Ashman’s hands.

“I feel tremendously happy for my family. To have this come back into the family means a lot,” said Ashman told NBC 2 Houston.

Johnson and his father used Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit group that gets lost medals back to service members and families. Ashman had registered with the group’s online database to track down the award.

“To the two gentlemen who found it, my family is just extremely grateful for it,” Ashman said.

The nonprofit group held a ceremony, and Ashman also connected with the people who found the medal by video call.

Ashman credited the group and its efforts. He said if not for them, he’d never have the medal and its memories. He told ABC 13 the find means a lot to the family, and he thanked the group.

Purple Heart Group Has Important Mission

Purple Hearts Reunited spokesperson Erin Faith Allen told NBC 2 Houston that “it was a really important thing (for families to have their loved one’s Purple Hearts).” She also said it was great “to see their families uplifted and reconnected with their veterans.

The nonprofit group has found more than 200 medals and got them to service members’ families. They are currently working on returning more than 300 more, according to the group’s Web site.

“It’s amazing,” Allen said. “It absolutely never gets old. It’s always bittersweet for us. We love meeting the families. We love celebrating the veterans.”

According to ABC News 13, there have been more than 2,000,000 Purple Heart recipients since 1932. Ryan was among the million-plus World War II soldiers to get the medal.