Seaman 2nd Class George Story was a 20-year-old serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill when it came under attack on May 11, 1945. The ship was supporting the invasion of Okinawa when it was struck twice by kamikazes — Japanese pilots who sacrificed their lives by crashing their airplanes into their targets.
The Story of the Return of the Purple Heart
By Scott Isaksen
My mother (Shirley) always has tears in her eyes when we talked about the day she answered the door and received news of her brother, George, who was killed on the USS Bunker Hill. Two Kamikaze pilots attacked the aircraft carrier off the coast of Okinawa on May 11, 1945, and my uncle was one of many casualties.
As a child, when visiting my grandparents’ home, I remember seeing a picture of my uncle along with a purple heart. It was in a prominent place in their home.
The years went by, and after my grandmother passed away, my grandfather remarried. When my grandfather passed away, we lost track of many of the Story possessions.
A few months ago, I was watching the national news, and was really intrigued when I saw the story of Captain Fike. His mission in life, beyond serving in the military himself, was to see the return of these important medals to their families. I was impressed, but then life went on.
A few days later, my wife, Marves, answered the phone. It was Captain Fike. At first, she thought it was a prank, but handed the phone to me. I remember him asking me if I knew a George Sanford Story. Evidently, Roger Balbo, a Marine Corps Veteran himself, had come across the Purple Heart as he was going though some family possessions. He knew this was something significant and had also seen the story of Captain Fike (Zac). So, it did not take Zac long to locate me via the Internet.
I was thrilled, and immediately called my Mom, who was also thrilled. Now, all that remained was to organize a special family event. It took a while, as my older brother was rather ill. All the while, Zac would stay in touch and patiently waited until we could put the plan together.
When the time came, Zac flew from Vermont to Idaho Falls. We finally had the chance to meet this man, face to face. He had already contacted the local legislators, and made loads of plans behind the scenes. He was able to join my Mom, my two brothers, and my wife for dinner the night before the ceremony. He fit right in and we enjoyed his company!
We held the ceremony at my Mom’s church the following day. It was very well done – deeply and emotionally meaningful. Zac gave the audience some background about the history and significance of the Purple Heart, and then presented my Mom a beautiful shadow box, framed, with the Presidential Citation from Harry Truman, and all the medals my Uncle had earned including the Purple Heart.
We were hoping to have the rest of the day to continue the celebration with Zac, but he still had his mission. Evidently, he had come across another Purple Heart belonging to another family that lived in Boise. So, shortly after the ceremony, he jumped in the car and off he went.
My brothers and I mounted the new family treasure in a prominent place in my Mom’s home and spent some wonderful time together, along with Roger Balbo.
I had offered to take Zac to the airport the following morning, and when we met early the next morning, I learned that he had just returned from his long drive back from returning the Purple Heart to the other family – so no sleep for the weary!
The mission he performs is wonderful and significant! The event provided a unique opportunity for our family to celebrate the life and memory of George. It provided my Mom a great sense of closure as well. Given all the local media attention, my Mom’s kids at the school at which she is called Grandma Shirley, all wanted to see the medals. Fortunately, my brothers were able to help her bring the treasure to share with the children, so they learned a bit about the Purple Heart as well. My family continues to talk about the event and Zac has been entered into our extended family.
He does all this on his own. This mission deserves our support!