An old suitcase ends 7 decade search for missing Purple Heart - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

An old suitcase ends 7 decade search for missing Purple Heart

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

The Purple Heart is one of the military's most respected awards. It's given only to those who were wounded or killed in combat. Last week, a Midlands veteran was given one he'd been searching for for decades.

Seven decades, that is.  

In 1944, Bill Evans and his brother Frank found themselves on different continents, for the same reason.

"I was put in the Pacific theater," said Evans. "We were far apart and didn't get to correspond very much."

They wanted to serve. It was a desire that would take the life of the older of the two. There was no official notification for Bill. He'd find out through a letter from a friend back home.

"She made a statement in the letter that at least she, my mother, had one more son. I took that to mean my brother was killed," said Evans.

It happened in the hedgerows of France, two months after D-Day. Evans would receive the flag that covered his brother's coffin, and the certificate of the award.

"But I did not have the Purple Heart," said Evans. "I couldn't find it. That was about 60 years difference or something like that."

Sixty-nine years later, Bill's daughter, Deborah Hartness, got a message that her second cousin that found something while he was cleaning an old suitcase.

"He said when he saw it he knew who deserved it and who would take care of it," said Hartness.

To Evans, the package was so unexpected, he almost sent it back. But he was curious.

"I went ahead and opened it and pulled out the box and it was the Purple Heart that I'd looked for for so long," said Evans. "I spent years trying to find it, and it was almost thrown away."

"I saw the Purple Heart and I just felt chilled," said Hartness. "Unleash you've seen one in person, I don't think you can appreciate how profound of an affect a piece of metal can have on you."

"That represents a man's life. His death," said Evans. "It let me know that he was killed in action."

Both of the brothers were led to serve by a father who'd done the same in the Spanish American War. Heritage is at the heart of the Evans family story, that on this Veterans Day, can close a chapter 69 years later.

"Everything is in place now," said Evans. "It's one of the days I'll highlight for the rest of my life."

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