SGT James L. MacMaster

Army Vietnam
Found: 2015 Returned: July 2015 Location: Ozark, MO

A Purple Heart that once belonged to Vietnam veteran SGT James MacMaster will be returned to his daughter in Ozark, MO, thanks to research done by Purple Hearts Reunited and a local newspaper columnist. The article detailing this captivating story appears below.

A Purple Heart

Answer Man: I volunteer at a food pantry in Billings. A woman recently came in with a wooden box with war medals in it, including a Purple Heart. She said she had found it when she moved into her new residence. She brought it to the pantry because my husband — who also volunteers — is a Marine veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart and has a Purple Heart license plate. I’ve contacted various groups but I’m still not 100 percent sure who earned the Purple Heart or if the person, if dead, has relatives who might want it. Can you help? — Patricia Hutton, Republic

Yes, I can help. In fact, I think I’ve got your answer, Patricia.

Here’s what I did to get the answer. For starters, I went to Patricia’s home. The Purple Heart is in a wooden box stamped with “Alder Smoked Salmon,” in Redmond, Washington.

Written on the box in black marker is: “SGT. JAMES L. MACMASTER RA16972614.

Naturally, I assumed the Purple Heart probably was awarded to Sgt. MacMaster.

But not necessarily. There is no name on the medal. Purple Hearts are engraved with the recipient’s name only if awarded after the soldier has died.

It’s possible, I thought, the medal and the name on the box didn’t match.

Anyone can buy a war medal, including a Purple Heart.

Medals of America, for example, makes and sells military medals, including Purple Hearts. Veterans can go to the website to replace lost or faded awards.

The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces wounded or killed.

I contacted Capt. Zacharia Fike, who has reunited 150 Purple Hearts with those awarded the medal — or their family members. Fike is in the Vermont National Guard and three years ago founded the nonprofit Purple Hearts Reunited

It is rare, he says, that veterans themselves sell the medals.

It is reprehensible, he says, but not illegal for someone to wear a medal not awarded to him or her by the U.S. government. What is illegal under the federal Stolen Valor Act, Fike says, is for someone to financially benefit from wearing a military medal that was not awarded to him or her.

“The moment you collect or gain profit from it — if someone gives you a car or you get free services — then it’s illegal,” he says.

Another wrinkle in reuniting Purple Hearts with veterans or their family members is that the medals often are purchased by collectors, who occasionally sell them on eBay for about $300, Fike says.

Medals can get lost

Purple Hearts get “lost” for assorted reasons, Fike tells me.

“I just say that life-things happen. Let’s say a soldier gets married two weeks before he goes to war. He’s from Michigan and she’s from Seattle. He dies and she moves back to Seattle and she lives her life. And then she dies and hardly anyone knows she was married.”

In addition, Fike says, many Purple Hearts were lost by people who lived through the Great Depression. They did not trust banks and safety-deposit boxes after so many banks had failed.

“Purple Hearts have been found hidden in old homes, under the floor boards,” he says.

I learned there is no government master list of those awarded a Purple Heart. MacMaster was not listed with the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, New York, which is a state agency, or with the national office of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, in Springfield, Virginia.

John Bircher, a spokesman for the Virginia group, says it has 45,000 members and that there are an estimated 500,000 living Purple Heart recipients.

A spokeswoman for the Purple Heart Hall of Fame says the medal — created by Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War and initially made of heart-shaped purple cloth— has been awarded to an estimated 1.8 million U.S. service men and women. It was initially called The Badge of Military Merit.

The names of recipients from the Revolutionary War have been lost, says Anita Pidala, director. The group knows of 14 recipients from the Civil War.

2011 obituary

As a basic step, I Googled “James L. MacMaster” and found his January 2011 obituary.

He died at age 65 in Champlin, Minnesota. He had served in Vietnam. He grew up in Minnesota and spent most of his life there. The obit contained no mention of Missouri.

I put in a request with the National Personnel Records Center for basic information. I wanted to know if MacMaster had been awarded a Purple Heart. But Fike got the information for me quicker.

MacMaster joined the Army on July 15, 1966. He served in Vietnam from October 1967 to February 1969. He was awarded a Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal with Valor Device.

After his service, he worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and he and his wife had three children, and then divorced.

One of his two daughters lives in Ozark and Fike provided me with her phone number.

“Those medals have meaning to me, and they belong to my father,” says Kelly Jill Lind, 42, who is studying to be a nurse.

She believes the box with her dad’s name on it once was in the possession of her brother, who lived in various places in the Ozarks.

“They moved around a lot and they left stuff behind when they moved,” she says.

Her father carried shrapnel in his thigh from his days in Vietnam. He talked little about the war until later in life.

“He was a quiet guy,” she says. “I did not spend a lot of time with him growing up because my parents divorced.”

Patricia, who had called me, says she will soon give the box of medals to Kelly.

“This makes me feel great,” Patricia says. “I know how important my husband’s medals were. And I know how much it meant to me when we received my own father’s medals — and they were only service medals.”

Her father was a World War II veteran.

“In this case, it was a Purple Heart and that means he sacrificed,” she says of MacMaster. “That is special. I knew I wanted to give it back to him — or to his family. Thank you.”

And let me offer my thanks to big-hearted Capt. Zacharia Fike, who I hereby award a Deputy Answer Man Badge.

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Story courtesy of The Answer Man (Steve Pokin, Springfield News-Leader).

Read the original article >> Woman Leaves a Box of War Medals at Billings Food Pantry: Answer Man, Can You Help?