Updated Nov. 13, 2013, 3PM EST
For Matt Carlson, finding the rightful owner of a Purple Heart he found on sale at a flea market for $40 was about more than just doing the right thing. It was about bringing a fellow brother home.
Carlson, a Vietnam veteran and history buff, knew from the moment he set eyes on the prestigious medal in Glendale, Ariz., that he had to reunite the honor with the person who had earned it, the Arizona Republic reported. But he had only a few clues from which to work.
The medal had the name “Clarence M. Merriott,” inscribed on the back, a certificate that indicated that Merriott had been killed on June 19, 1944, and came with two letters that Merriott had sent to his family in Oklahoma, according to CNN.
He knew it wouldn’t be easy, so Carlson administered as much help as he could get.
Carlson connected with a veterans group that works to preserve the memory of a WWII battalion to which Merriott had belonged.
He then enlisted the help of a Congressman in Oklahoma and a local museum.
Finally, after nine months, the tireless group located a number of Merriott’s distant relatives who asked that the medals and the letters be donated to the town’s museum. They will be presented on Monday at a program at Stilwell High School.
Carlson made the 1,200-mile drive so that he can be there for the poignant ceremony he allowed to happen.
“This young man ... joined the military to serve his country. I joined the military to serve my country. We both saw combat. I came home. He didn’t,” Carlson told the Arizona Republic. “I helped him find his way home.”
It’s painstaking work, but a number of veterans across the country have committed to making sure that these priceless medals don’t fall into the wrong hands.
In fact, Zachariah Fike, a Vermont Army National Guard captain, has developed an entire nonprofit around returning such medals to their owners. He was motivated to do so when he saw an increase in the number of these medals being pedaled online among collectors, NBC reported.
Founded in 2012, Purple Hearts Reunited works to return these hard-earned medals to the servicemen who earned them. To date, the nonprofit has succeeded in returning six Purple Hearts.
“I know I’m outnumbered on this -- there's hundreds of collectors selling them and buying them compared to one guy who’s on this crusade,” Fike told NBC. “But if I can just reach one or two of these dealers and convince them to at least try to reunite the medals with the families of the recipients, well, then I’ve done some justice.”