2LT Harry “Bill” William Bessler fought in World War II and was killed in action on 17 FEB 1944. Purple Hearts Reunited traveled to Sturgis, South Dakota to present his lost Purple Heart to Tom Maples, Bessler’s nephew. The Purple Hearts Reunited return was part of the Veteran Appreciation Ceremony at the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally. Maples did not know his uncle well but admired him through stories, and reported that after the return ceremony, he considered his uncle his hero.
Bessler, a resident of Black Hills, SD, was a B-24 Liberator bomber pilot sent to Italy on Dec. 15, 1943. Just one month later, his plane was damaged during a bombing mission south of Rome and crashed. After missing in action for more than one year, on May 18, 1945, Bessler was pronounced dead. Years later his remains would be recovered from the plane’s cockpit.
His wife was originally presented his Purple Heart, but the award, along with of his other medals, were lost in a house fire following her death.
Capt. Zachariah Fike, founder of Purple Hearts Reunited, a non-profit organization that locates lost or stolen military medals and returns them to veterans or their families, presented Bessler’s reclaimed medals to his nephew, Tom Maples, of Rapid City, along with a framed flag and a portrait of Bessler.
“I was only three years old when my uncle died,” Maples said to the crowd of supporters. “I never really got to know him, but through stories and such, he was always my hero. Now I can share this with everybody and prove he definitely was a hero.”
Read about this story in the Rapid City Journal.