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Can you help? Illinois wants to return 11 Purple Heart medals to rightful owners

“These medals personify honor, sacrifice, and duty. They belong in the loving care of families rather than hidden inside our cold basement vault."
Credit: James Insogna - stock.adobe.com

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The state of Illinois wants the public’s help to return nearly a dozen Purple Heart medals to their rightful owners. The medals are awarded to members of the U.S. military who are injured or killed while serving.

Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs said the 11 medals each were left in a bank safe deposit box that went untouched for years. The treasurer’s office received them as part of the office’s unclaimed property program after the owners could not be found.

“These medals personify honor, sacrifice, and duty,” Frerichs said. “They belong in the loving care of families rather than hidden inside our cold basement vault.”

His office released a list Thursday of the last names associated with the safe deposit box, the date in which the medal was recorded with the state treasurer’s office and the location of the bank. They include multiple banks across Illinois and one in Portland, Oregon.

Last names and last known cities connected to the family that rented the safe deposit box containing the Purple Heart medal:

  • Cawthon, Received, Nov. 1, 1992, Portland, Oregon
  • Wilson, Received, Nov. 13, 1995, Chicago
  • Burns, Received, Nov. 5, 1997, Homewood
  • Moore, Received, Oct. 17, 2001, Peoria
  • Smith, Received, Nov. 18, 2002, Oak Park
  • Gorski, Received, Oct. 30, 2003, Darien
  • Tuttle, Received, Oct. 25, 2018, Decatur
  • Alexander, Received, Oct. 26, 2018, Channahon
  • Isbell or Shayer, Received, Oct. 31, 2018, Chicago
  • Steward or VanHasselaere, Received, Oct. 31, 2018, Round Lake
  • Wiest, Received, Oct. 23, 2019, O’Fallon

“Our ask is simple. If you recognize a name, and you know they lived in the city, then reach out to them because maybe we have their Purple Heart,” Frerichs said.

READ ALSO: 'It was an answer to a prayer': Illinois Vietnam War vet reunites with man he saved on battlefield 50 years ago

The treasurer’s office explained military medals are some of the most difficult items to return to their rightful owners for a variety of reasons. The name on the honor might not match the name on the unclaimed property. Also, the federal government and Armed Forces don’t maintain a list of awardees.

Frerichs’ office said it will thoroughly vet any inquiries that come in to ensure the medals go to the rightful families.

Claims can be made on the Illinois treasurer’s office website.