Family happy to be reunited with WWII pilot’s long-lost Purple Heart

WWII pilot’s Purple Heart returned to family members

WWII pilot's Purple Heart returned to family members

The family of a service member who died in World War II say they never could have imagined being reunited with his Purple Heart. Lt. Herbert Stanford’s service medal was stolen during a string of burglaries in Orleans County 15 years ago.

The medal was quickly recovered but was placed into an evidence storage room after deputies couldn’t identify who it belonged to.

But recently, the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office came across the Purple Heart and contacted VA Finger lakes Region Police Chief William Scribner, who assigned an investigator to the case. After a few months, Lt. Stanford’s niece Joyce Stanford-Crooks got an email telling her that they had found her uncle’s Purple Heart. Her uncle, a fighter pilot, died in a crash during the war, in 1944.

At the Rochester Calkins VA clinic on Wednesday, Lt. Stanford’s great-niece Kate Stanford said she was surprised when she found out the medal had been found.

“I was a little confused because I wasn’t sure where this person got all this extensive information about the family, but very excited to share it with my aunts and have them look into the family history and being able to reconnect with the award that had been lost somewhere along the line and so we’re all very excited. And so my aunts did the research, and we are very happy to be here today,” she said.

The family said they are still unsure exactly where the medal was stolen from, but they’re glad to have the Purple Heart back.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Purple Heart is the country’s oldest military award. It started as the “Badge of Military Merit.” George Washington came up with it in 1782 as a way to show appreciation to troops and prevent mutiny by hungry and unpaid Continental Army soldiers. It was only given to troops who did something unusually heroic or did something essential to the Continental Army’s success.

The award wasn’t revived until Feb. 22, 2932, Washington’s 200th birthday. That’s when it began to be called the Purple Heart and when it started to be given to soldiers who had been wounded in action.