MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Boxes of junk can often reveal a piece of hidden treasure, but when that treasure turns out to be a war medal for a soldier killed in action, the discovery creates a whole new challenge.
That’s what an Otsego family recently faced when they turned over a Purple Heart awarded posthumously more than 63 years ago.
On Wednesday, the Korean War soldier’s surviving brother fought back tears when he was handed the long lost honor.
“My father-in-law and I were out cleaning up a pile of garbage,” Mark Kasper said.
Kasper and his wife recently purchased an old farm in Otsego and were in the process of tearing down old buildings.
“We saw this blue box, opened it up and low and behold it was a Purple Heart medal,” Kasper said.
Inscribed on the back of the medal was the name, George J. Johnson.
Kasper’s grandfather, Lloyd Cyr began the process of tracking down information on Johnson. After discovering he was an Army Private who was buried in Fulda, Minn., the medal and mystery were turned over to the Minnesota Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Private Johnson was killed in Korea on July 23, 1950. He was just 17 years old. At his Fulda burial service, the Purple Heart and Bronze Star were awarded posthumously and kept in his parent’s Cambridge store.
Some years later, the store was burglarized and the medals were stolen. For some yet unknown reason, they ended up in a box of junk and abandoned in an out building on the Otsego farm.
“That’s not mine. I didn’t earn it. The family should have it back,” Kasper said.
On Wednesday, Private First Class Johnson’s younger brother, William, fought back tears as the long lost Purple Heart was returned during a moving ceremony.
Department of Veteran’s Affairs Commander, Retired General Larry Shellito, said the reunification is proof that, “we cannot forget. We will never forget.”
After handshakes and hugs, William Johnson said he will keep the gold heart with the purple ribbon alongside photographs of his brother.
“How amazing that it is that I get it back,” he said. “I just can’t believe it that much.”
Korea may be known as the “Forgotten War,” but the reunification of this Purple Heart is proof that its heroes will be.
“It’s just amazing, I’ve got to say thank you to all the people involved,” Johnson added.
Sadly, George Johnson’s parents died without knowing what ever came of the stolen medals.
According to Mark Kasper, the farm’s former owner was an antique and junk collector. He figures the previous owner purchased a box of items and stored it in one of the farm’s 12 outbuildings, never realizing what it contained.