Mysterious Journey of a Purple Heart medal from World War Two

This is the story of a Purple Heart medal awarded to 1st Lt. Rodney D.Beckel, and its mysterious journey following the end of World War II.  Rodney Beckel was a member of the United States Army Air Force serving as a pilot who took part in the campaign to recapture the Philippines from Japanese Forces.

Beckel died on the 7th of January 1945 during a flight mission bombing Japanese positions in the Pacific theater of war.  Previously injured in October of 1944, Rodney Beckel received the Purple Heart for his acts of bravery, and then returned to continue his military service before he was finally shot down over Clark Field by Japanese anti-aircraft fire.  In the words of Lt. Col. Robert F. McEniry:

While flying down the middle of one of the Japanese runways, a thunderous explosion rent the ground and the air. In a second, three aircraft from the 673rd Squadron crashed and were destroyed.”

While the service record of Rodney Beckel is well known to those interested in military history, the mystery of the Purple Heart lay in its unexpected discovery, buried in the back yard of a student who attended the Lower Macungie Middle School in approximately 2002.  The medal was brought into the Lower Macungie Middle School where it was given to a student named Keegan Nytz to study.

Keegan Nytz took an interest in tracing the medal’s origins and the mystery of how it had come to be buried in a suburban garden.  By tracing Rodney’s wife, Gloria, he found that Rodney had a son, Rodney Jr.   After Rodney Beckel had died, the medal was passed onto his son Rodney Jr.   Young Rodney Jr had a troubled adulthood, spending a significant amount of time homeless.  The medal surely left his possession during the period he spent homeless, The Morning Call reported.

From information gathered by Keegan talking to Rodney Beckel’s surviving stepdaughter, Wanda Pitosky, it was established that during the time Rodney Jr spent being homeless he began burying items of significance to him out of fear of them going missing.  It seems that because the Purple Heart medal his father gave him would presumably have been of great value to him, it is highly likely that he buried the medal for its safe keeping.  Thus, the mystery of the Purple Heart was solved, and the medal itself was returned to the surviving family of Rodney Beckel.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE