MEDFORD, Ore. – Retired Marine Roger Balbo said he knew exactly what he had to do when he discovered a lost Purple Heart medal.
“I knew that medal had to be with the family.”
His discovery put him on a journey to honor a fallen World War II soldier.
The medal belonged to Seaman First Class George Story, who was killed by Japanese Kamikazes while serving on the U.S.S. Bunker Hill in May 1945. His purple heart was presented to his parents. After Story’s mother died, his father remarried, but the Purple Heart was lost to memory for decades, until February 2012, when the woman’s son discovered the forgotten medal. That man: Roger Balbo of Medford.
Balbo, who served with the Marines during the Vietnam War, tried to track down Story’s surviving family, but didn’t have many leads. His search eventually led him to Army Cpt. Zachariah Fike, who specializes in returning lost Purple Hearts to military families. Balbo sent a message to Fike explaining his effort.
“I received an answer by the end of that day. He had contacted, he had found the family,” Balbo said.
Saturday, Balbo and Fike traveled to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where they presented the Purple Heart to Story’s sister, Shirley Cowell.
“We miss him to this day. 68 years later,” Cowell said at the ceremony. “He’s finally home.”
Balbo said he felt honored to be a part of the moment, but he was happier to see Story’s family receive closure and pay tribute to their loved one. He said an unlikely series of events brought together the right people to make it happen.
“It was divine intervention. God brought us all through this together,” he said.
More information on Cpt. Fike’s efforts to return lost Purple Hearts can be found here.