A Purple Heart medal awarded during World War II was sold for $4.99 at a Goodwill store in Arizona. The medal will be returned to the recipient’s family in Missouri. The recipient was a former American paratrooper, who served with the 82nd airborne division.
Laura Hardy and her husband were shopping in the Goodwill store in Mesa, Arizona, when he noticed the medal on display in the jewelry section. Hardy said that the medal was classified as jewelry and priced at $4.99. “They just rang it up …no comment from the people at the register or anywhere.”
Hardy posted a picture of the medal on her Facebook page along with the name engraved on the back: “Eual H. Whiteman.”
Tina Cook runs a Facebook group called “Veteran Buddy Finder.” The group exists to help veterans find each other. Cook used a genealogy website and a newspaper archive website to find a living relative of Whiteman and then called Hardy with the good news.
Whiteman’s former sister-in-law, Phyllis Lawson, was shocked to receive calls from Cook and Hardy to let her know that Whiteman’s medal had been found.
“There’s a mystery person out there somewhere that gave that to the Goodwill,” Lawson, 68, told ABC News. “I have no idea how it got there.”
Lawson lives in Holts, Summit, Missouri. She was married to Whiteman’s younger brother, Robert Alan Whiteman, who passed away in 2013. The couple divorced in the ’80’s. Lawson says she never knew a lot about Eual, who was much older than Robert. She had heard his story and his wartime bravery.
“He and my ex-husband were 16 years apart and he left for the military when Robert was extremely young and then he just kind of stayed gone,” Lawson said. “He came home once a few weeks after his mother died and stayed about a week and then he was gone again.” The ex-paratrooper seemed to have a led a wandering and varied life.
Eual Whiteman passed away in 1991 and is buried in Williamette National Cemetery in Oregon. He enlisted in 1940 and earned three battle stars, a Combat Badge, and a Presidential Unit Badge with the 82nd Airborne Division, plus the Purple Heart. He fought in Sicily and in Germany.
Lawson said her former brother-in-law never had any children. “It’s sad that it ended up [at Goodwill] and sad that he wasn’t with family.”
Hardy’s grandfather was also a Purple Heart recipient. His medal is in a museum. She wants to make sure Whiteman’s medal is with family and intends to mail it to Lawson as soon as possible.
“It belongs somewhere where people can honor it or at least be with the family,” Hardy said. “I just thought it was unbelievable, all the people who tried to help, from all over the country people were on their computers trying to find this man.”
Goodwill has stated that it was “unfortunate” that the medal was placed on sale in one of their stores. They have offered to reimburse Hardy the $4.99.
“We have a process in place for all of our donation attendants that when they identify an item of significance, like a medal, we ask them to pull it aside and we try to contact either the Veterans Affairs Department or local authorities,” Courtney Nelson, vice president of marketing and communications for Goodwill of Central Arizona, told ABC News. “They are processing thousands of items every day so this was unfortunately an example of an item that slipped through and wasn’t identified as a Purple Heart.”