Lost Treasure in a Trunk

You never know what treasure you will find when shopping at a garage sale – a fishing pole, a set of dishes, clothes, maybe a piece of furniture. Joyce Ketchem of Plattsburg went to a sale in Gower a few years ago and bought a trunk, but it is what was left inside that has been on her mind all this time.

Joyce was interested in the antique trunk being sold, but inside were some quilts and other items. She talked to Retha Snapp who was having the sale, and decided to buy the quilts, too. Once home with her new trunk she decided to clean it out so she could have it refinished. Tucked away with the quilts was a purple box with a medal inside – a Purple Heart. She couldn’t believe it. The ribbon was missing, but she knew exactly what it was. She called Retha, but she didn’t know where it came from and told Joyce she could keep it.

Joyce tried to find someone who could help her find the owner of the precious war medal through local veterans groups but had no luck. “I had it for years and it laid on me so heavy…I just knew it belonged to somebody.” She kept in her car for a period of time hoping someone would know something. Finally she tucked it away in her dresser for safe keeping, but she never forgot about it.

In April of this year, she mentioned to local historian Helen Russell the story of the Purple Heart she’d found several years ago. Helen told Joyce about a recent article she had read in the AARP magazine about a man who reconnects lost Purple Hearts to the proper families. Helen emailed Captain Zachariah Fike with PurpleHeartsReunited.org and he was happy to help.

The medal was sent to Captain Zac (as he likes to be called) and he was able to determine that Private First Class Raymond A. Cloud was killed in action during World War II in Germany. The medal would have likely been presented to a close family member since PFC Cloud was not married.

Captain Zac located PFC Cloud’s niece, LaVerne Pattista in Arizona. He stated via email that once official medals were received a date would be set in the near future to present them to the family. With a phone call to LaVerne, we learned that PFC Cloud was her “Uncle Ray”. She was 10 when he left. LaVerne recalled that he was the youngest in the family and the last to go into the service. Captain Zac confirmed the PFC Cloud enlisted on January 14, 1943.

PFC Cloud’s information lists him as killed in action on September 15, 1944 in Germany. He was buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery in California on August 30, 1948.

So how did the trunk and medal end up in Missouri? LaVerne didn’t know. She couldn’t remember any relatives from Missouri. Her family was from California. She did recall her grandmother, who was known for her quilting/sewing skills used to have an antique trunk she kept things in, but wasn’t sure if that was the connection.

With the help of Joyce, we dug a little deeper and found out that the late Retha Snapp had a sister named Mildred who lived in California for a time. And, Mildred was once married to a man named Wiley Cloud. Joyce called Retha’s children, Tony Snapp and Robin Krueger, who both still live in Gower. They confirmed that Aunt Mildred did live in California before coming back to the Midwest and remarrying. Another phone call to LaVerne and she confirmed that Wiley Cloud was Uncle Ray’s older brother.

Private First Class Wiley Cloud is listed in online enlistment records as joining the service in 1941 at the age of 32.

The mystery remains, but it is possible that when Mildred left California to come back to the Midwest, her former brother-in-law’s Purple Heart was tucked away in an old trunk. And it wasn’t until her sister sold the trunk to Joyce Ketchem that the Purple Heart was discovered and returned to PFC Raymond A. Cloud’s family.