Lost: UNK Found: 2012 Returned: 26 MAY 2014 Location: Kearny, NJ
For more than two decades, it sat – carefully preserved – in a Pennsylvania residence.
Bill Sweeney, outreach coordinator for the Kearny VOICE (Veterans Outreach Information Community Education) project, co-sponsored by the local American Legion Auxiliary and American Legion, said the medal was conferred on Army Pvt. Wilfred J. Warhurst Jr., a World War II veteran killed in action Jan. 19, 1945, in Europe.
Warhurst’s name is engraved on a bronze plaque, along with the names of other Kearny hero veterans, that is part of a permanent display mounted in the lobby of Kearny Town Hall.
Sweeney said that last September, Tony Cappiti, the-then commander of the United Veterans Organization of Kearny, got a call from Army Capt. Zachariah Fike and his nonprofit organization Purple Hearts Reunited, which collects lost medals and seeks to return them to recipients or family members.
Fike told him that a woman in Pennsylvania had Pvt. Warhurst’s medal and had learned through the Dept. of Veterans Affairs that there were no known living relatives of Warhurst and wondered what, if anything, could be done about it.
“We decided it would be nice for us, through the VOICE, to partner with the Kearny Museum and let them take custody of the medal so it could be safely stored there and available for display to the public,” Sweeney said.
The medal presentation is expected to happen sometime during the May 26 Kearny Memorial Day observance, he added.
Keystone State resident Patricia Belsky is credited by Sweeney and Fike for setting things in motion but when reached by phone last week in her current East Greenville residence, Belsky said it was actually her father-in-law Chester Belsky who found the medal as he was walking around the parking lot of the former Lehigh Valley family business in Pennsburg, Pa.
“He used to bring home all sorts of strange things,” Belsky said.
This particular day – which, according to Belsky, happened more than 20 years ago – “he came and said, ‘Look what I found,’ ’’ she said. It was the Purple Heart medal, “in pristine condition, a beautiful tribute.”
Belsky said she called the V.A., only to be told that Warhurst had no known survivors and that she should look after it, which she did. “I kept it in my jewelry box,” she said.
And there the medal sat until sometime in 2013 when she happened to be talking to a friend whose husband was, by coincidence, a Purple Heart winner who knew about Fike’s organization. And Belsky, remembering the mystery medal, decided to reach out to him.
Memorial Day return
An obituary of Pvt. Wilfred J. Warhurst Jr. retrieved by Kearny Library Director Josh Humphrey from an old newspaper clipping said that he had lived at 92 Devon Terrace, and was a former student at Kearny High where “he became a member of champion sprint relay teams…” Before entering the service, “he was employed at the Pollak Manufacturing Co. in Kearny.”
The obituary said that Warhurst “was inducted into the Army in January 1943. He trained at Camp Pickett, Val., and at Camp Davis, N.C., before being assigned to overseas duty in February 1944. He was attached to a unit of an advanced anti-aircraft artillery battalion on the Western Front.”
According to research, Warhurst was serving with the 320th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, which advanced to Arlon, Belgium, Dec. 25-26, 1944, “and took part in the fighting to relieve Bastogne, throwing off the attacks of four German divisions, taking Villers-laBonne- Eau, on Jan. 10, 1945, after a 13-day fight and Lutrebois in a five-day engagement.” On Jan. 18, “the Division returned to Metz to resume its interrupted rest.” Then, the obituary says, Warhurst “was seriously wounded in action in Belgium on Jan. 12 [and] died a week later, Jan. 19, at an Army station hospital in Luxemburg.”
Warhurst, who was 27 when he died, was buried at Luxembourg American Cemetery in Luxemburg.