CHIPPEWA FALLS — Carol Schultz, 85, beamed as she talked about her older brother, Harry Rudy, who died in combat on Sept. 19, 1944, in World War II.
Schultz was among three of Rudy’s siblings who attended a ceremony Friday, where Rudy’s long-lost Purple Heart was returned to the family.
“I’m thrilled,” Schultz said Friday. “I think it’s great; it’s a special honor.”
After Rudy died, the family was given a posthumous Purple Heart medal, but it was stored out of view, likely in a chest in their parents’ room.
“I remember my mother had a pretty blue box,” Schultz recalled. “There was a medal of some kind in that box.”
After Harry Rudy’s mother died, her house was cleaned out around 1990, and the medal was somehow discarded. The siblings were surprised when they got a call last month, saying that Harry Rudy’s Purple Heart had turned up, for sale, in Europe.
Schultz was just 13 when Harry Rudy died, at age 24. Schultz, her older sister, 88-year-old Gloria Arneson, and their youngest brother, 72-year-old Roger Rudy, attended the ceremony Friday. The siblings recalled Harry Rudy as a caring man who helped take care of all his younger brothers and sisters, and would give them money so they could go roller skating.
About 70 people packed the American Legion Post 77 in downtown Chippewa Falls on Friday, honoring Rudy and his service and the return of the medal. Mayor Greg Hoffman and state Sen. Terry Moulton, R-town of Seymour, praised Rudy, and the celebration concluded with unveiling the Purple Heart in a framed box. The back side of the box is open, displaying Harry Rudy’s name inscribed on the back of the medal.
Mike Hanke, a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard that went to Baghdad in 2009, described the Purple Heart “as an award that no one wants to receive.”
“It comes from pain and agony,” Hanke said. “The Purple Heart sends a message of what the veteran has done, not just for the recipient, but the family.”
Leroy Jansky with the Veterans of Foreign Wars post said the ceremony was a great event for Chippewa Falls.
“Purple Hearts should not be separated from the family, and it’s great this one has been returned,” Jansky said.
The lost medal was recovered by the nonprofit organization Purple Hearts Reunited, which was started by a Vermont man named Zachariah Fike, who is a captain in the National Guard. He has now returned about 200 Purple Hearts to families. Michael Brennan, a retired Madison police officer who works with Purple Hearts Reunited, unveiled the medal at the conclusion of the ceremony.
“We’re proud to give the medal back to the family,” Brennan said. “The Purple Heart represents his sacrifice and bloodshed to serve his country.”
Brennan said it typically costs $1,500 to return a medal, between buying it back from a collector to delivering it to the family.
Brennan said he is hopeful people will learn about Fike’s work and donate to the cause. To learn more visit purpleheartsreunited.org.
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