RIPLEY, W.Va. — Thanks to a considerate individual, the World Wide Web and a nonprofit foundation, a Purple Heart has finally made its way back into the hands of its owner’s family.
The search for veteran and Purple Heart recipient James F. Sneed’s family took off when the individual who found the medal, Carrie Lynch-Myers, of Ripley, posted a photo on Facebook earlier this month showing the medal she found in a second-hand purse she had purchased. The Facebook post asked for help in identifying the veteran’s family.
The post quickly went viral, receiving more than 365,000 shares.
Eventually, the Facebook post was brought to the attention of the founder of Purple Hearts Reunited Inc., active captain in the Vermont National Guard and Purple Heart recipient Zachariah Fike, after hundreds of individuals contacted him about Sneed’s medal.
“It went viral on Facebook, and because of our foundation people from across the country were reaching out to us saying, ‘Hey are you aware of this and can you help?’” Fike said. “We had about 400 to 500 people contact us either through e-mail or on Facebook. So we got involved and tried to help as best we could and we were able to find the family.”
Fike said the foundation initially learned about Sneed’s medal last Sunday, identified his family on Monday, and by Wednesday the medal was returned to the Sneed family.
Sneed, born in Point Pleasant in 1920, was a warrant officer during World War II. He also served during the Korean War.
There are three ways a medal can be identified via an engraving, Fike said. If a soldier is killed in combat, the name will be engraved on the back of the medal and it will be presented to the family. The other two ways a medal can be traced to its soldier is through a personal engraving or a replacement medal record.
“This medal that was found was a replacement medal, which actually was a good thing,” he said. “In this case, the veteran requested this medal in 1989, the year he died. So my guess would be that after his death, his family ordered the medal to do some type of shadow box or some type of memorial piece for him since he was a veteran.”
Fike said the address the replacement medal was shipped to ultimately led him to the location of Sneed’s family.
“We were able to put those pieces together and determine this was the right veteran, and in fact this was his medal, and then slowly started researching who the family was —his parents and then all his brothers and sisters. In this case, we were able to identify his younger brother Joseph, who was also a veteran. He and his brother served at the same time period in Korea, and Joseph had a daughter, Joan Sneed-Mills, so she is the niece of the veteran and we were able to locate her.”
After Fike contacted Lnych-Myers and Sneed-Mills, also of Ripley, the two met up and the medal was reunited with its veteran’s family once again — after all the while being closer to the family than anyone could have guessed.
“What’s ironic about this story is that both Joan and Carrie are nurses at the same hospital. So they’ve literally worked together for the past two years and never knew it,” Fike said.
Sneed-Mills and Lynch-Myers could not be reached for comment, but Sneed-Mills left a comment on Purple Hearts Reunited’s Facebook page on Wednesday expressing her gratitude to Fike and Lynch-Myers for reuniting her family with the medal.
Fike said reuniting medals with veterans’ families often helps to reunite the families themselves.
“If there’s other (Sneed) relatives out there, then that’s a positive thing. If other nieces and nephews come forward, maybe that will bring this family together again. I found some distant relatives down in Florida and I was able to put Joan in touch with them as well,” he said. “A lot of times these returns bring some families together and bring some closure to their lives.”
Fike founded Purple Hearts Reunited Inc. in 2012, just a few years after his first year-long search for a Purple Heart recipient’s family and receiving a Purple Heart of his own after he was wounded on Sept. 11, 2010, in Afghanistan.
His first search, which took him a year, began after Fike’s mother gave him a Purple Heart for Christmas in 2009 that she had found in an antique shop. A veteran herself, as well as Fike’s father, the Fike family was more than familiar with the significance of the medal.
“We all knew what that medal meant, and she knew better that that medal didn’t belong there, so she paid $100 for it,” he said.
Fike said seeing the veteran’s family reunite after his first search was a monumental experience, and fueled his desire to return as many medals as possible.
“To see them, for the first time coming together — after his death they kind of all went their separate ways — they celebrated their first-ever family reunion around that medal returned,” he said. “So I got to see 60 family members, three generations, ages 3 to 93, coming together for the very first time. It was just magical. And we haven’t looked back since. We’ve returned more than 100 medals to date.”
The foundation gets approximately three to five medals each week, and currently has more than 200 medals for which they’re trying to find a home, Fike said.
Fike said he encourages people who find medals to reach out to the foundation and is grateful for individuals like Lynch-Myers.
“Carrie should be commended. She did the right thing,” he said. “Believe it or not, people trade these like baseball cards. There are collectors out there that actively look for them. So for her to go national with it and enlist the help of everyone across the country — even overseas, I’ve got messages from people in Europe that saw it — so to get that much attention, she did the right thing. She should be proud of what she did and that the medal is now back with the family member.”
For more information about Purple Hearts Reunited Inc., visit its Facebook page or website at purpleheartsreunited.org.