The grandson who lost Ralph Bingham’s World War I Purple Heart probably had no idea of its significance.
But 31-year-old Army National Guard Capt. Zachariah Fike, who returned the medal to Bingham’s family members Saturday, 16 September 2012, at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, understands completely.
The expression on the faces of Bingham’s survivors Saturday gave him all the thanks he needed.
“We were just flabbergasted when Capt. Fike contacted us,” said Bourne resident Barbara MacNevin, Ralph Bingham’s 87-year-old daughter.
For the young Vermont man to make the trip to Bourne and help organize the medal-returning ceremony — “it’s beyond words,” added Robert MacNevin, Barbara’s son, also of Bourne.
Bingham, who spent most of his life in Brockton, was shot in the leg while running through a battlefield in France on Nov. 3, 1918, according to his grandson.
He lay on the ground, playing dead, as the German soldiers marched by him. He continued lying on the ground for days until he was found by medics, Robert MacNevin said.
The gangrene was so bad that his leg had to be amputated above the knee.
Back home, the man who once played the piano in the silent movie theaters, fell into a deep depression. He felt his music was over and so was his life, Robert MacNevin said.
But then Bingham took a job making shoe and candy boxes at his father’s manufacturing plant in Brockton. He met his wife and they had a family. He had a good life, living to the age of 94.
“There was a brokenness in him,” Robert MacNevin said. “But it’s through God’s glory that he was able to be healed. My grandfather realized he had to put one good foot forward and he did.”
Bingham didn’t talk much about his time in France, but his daughter, Barbara, remembers seeing the Purple Heart in her parents’ home growing up.
When Bingham died in 1987, one of MacNevin’s sisters gave it to her son and the young man lost it.
“It probably didn’t have much meaning for him,” Barbara MacNevin said.
Enter Fike, who bought the heart-shaped medal with Bingham’s name clearly inscribed, on Craigslist.
“It irks me that people would want to make money selling these,” Fike said.
He bought it — he wouldn’t say for how much — and then searched around until he found Ralph Bingham’s nephew, Allen Bingham, in Maine.
State Senate President Therese Murray attended Saturday’s ceremony along with family members, members of the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and P. Stanley Cobane, of Chatham, a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart who received the medal after being wounded in 1950 in Korea.
“We cannot thank Mr. Bingham personally for his service, but to all servicemen and women we owe a debt of gratitude we can never repay,” Murray said. “And Captain Fike, you have endeavored on a great and selfless mission.”