It could be a question posed by a movie or novel: How did a fallen Korean War soldier’s well-worn Purple Heart medal end up on the floor at Sonoma County’s main airport?
Gina Stocker craves an answer. Stocker, whose job is to promote Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport lost and found, checks Facebook regularly for responses to her plea for help locating the owner of the Purple Heart awarded posthumously in tribute to U.S. Army Pfc. 2nd Class Miguel A. Perez y Loubriel.
More than 60,000 people have viewed the airport’s Facebook post about the medal, Stocker said Tuesday. But, sadly, “nobody has called to claim it.” Sonoma County Airport lost and found
Online research reveals that Perez, a Puerto Rican, was 23 and serving as a light-weapons infantryman when he was killed in combat in North Korea on Aug. 8, 1952. His family would have been presented the Purple Heart ribbon and medal.
Late last week, a member of the operations crew at the airport between Santa Rosa and Windsor found the combat decoration in the terminal.
“It was lying by the baggage carousel,” Stocker said. Presumably, it was dropped by a passenger who had arrived, given the time of the discovery, on an Alaska Airlines flight.
By the looks of the medal, it has not been kept in a case or a drawer for the past 64 years. The purple, gold-fringed ribbon is frayed, and the heart-shaped medal bears signs of wear.
On the front of the medal is a portrait of Gen. George Washington, who called the predecessor of the Purple Heart the Badge of Merit when he first awarded it during the Revolutionary War. That history makes the Purple Heart, presented to service members wounded in battle and to the families of those who are killed, the country’s oldest military decoration still in use.
On the back of the one found at the airport, the name of Pv2 Perez is engraved beneath the words that appear on all Purple Hearts, “For Military Merit.”
The medal is pinned to a clipped piece of paper printed with the names of others of the more than 3,500 Puerto Ricans who died fighting for the United States in Korea.
Stocker wonders if the medal might have been lost by a relative of Perez, who was born in Toa Alta, in north-central Puerto Rico, and served with the 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division.
It would not be unusual if the Purple Heart was dropped by someone who had no connection to the fallen infantryman’s family, but had at some point in the past six decades found or purchased or been given the medal.
Just months ago, California congressman Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley, introduced a bill to outlaw the selling of Purple Heart medals.
Cook, a Vietnam veteran who was awarded two of the combat decorations during his 26-year career as a Marine, said collectors of military memorabilia “cheapen the Purple Heart by buying and selling this symbol of sacrifice like a pack of baseball cards.” Cook maintains that for Purple Hearts to be of value as collectibles increases the likelihood of them being stolen from veterans or their families.
Who was carrying the medal that honored the service and sacrifice of Miguel Perez before it wound up alongside the baggage carousel? Stocker and the county airport crew yearn for the arrival of answers and hope the Purple Heart won’t lie for long in lost-and-found.
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