Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Richard Pacelle, professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, to find some answers.
In 2009, Zachariah Fike’s mother gave him a Purple Heart that she found in an antique store as a Christmas present.
Looking on the back, Fike — an Army National Guard captain — discovered it had been awarded to Corrado A.G. Piccoli.
Fike became determined to find out who Piccoli was and why the medal ended up in the antique store. Fike eventually was able to return the medal to Piccoli’s family, including his sister, Adeline Rockko.
In 2012, he founded the organization Purple Hearts Reunited to give other medals back to those who have had them lost or stolen.
The organization reports that it has been able to locate return over 60 medals so far.
Zachariah Fike on what it’s like to uncover the stories of veterans
“For me it’s personal. I get to know the veterans as I do the research, and they become a part of me. They become a part of my family; Adeline is a second mom to me. And those people have impacted my life, and will impact my life forever. It’s very hard to say goodbye to the families. It’s very hard to say goodbye to the memories. I keep a photo of each veteran in my home to remind me of their sacrifice, and it really is the driving force to keep me moving forward and to continue in doing this mission and God’s work.”
Adeline Rockko on what it was like to have her brother’s medal returned to her
“It’s the end of the story actually. We found out a lot about Zach and his family, and Zach was able to tell us all the end of the story – how my brother died, what wounds he received, where he was buried, where the battle was, how long the battle was and all these unanswered questions that had been in our minds all these years. He did a very fine job and he really helped us out a lot. More than he will ever know.”
Zachariah Fike on the importance of the Purple Hearts
“You’ve got to think or put it in perspective – a mother or father would get that telegram during World War II telling them or informing them that their only child, in some cases, were no longer with us. And that’s a very emotional event. And soon after, 30 to 60 days, they would receive a registered piece of mail with this Purple Heart. A lot of the effects were not returned to the family, so this was all they had – it became that tangible item that they could touch and feel and display in their homes. And it’s the only memory of their loved ones. To be removed from that and then reunited 60 years later, really brings closure to their lives.”