Man to give Marine's belongings back to family

November 30, 2010 (HOBART, Ind.)

The family of Sergeant Jeannette Winters was locked in a battle over her personal belongings after they ended up in storage. The family put those items in storage after their home was burglarized during Winters' funeral.

But there appears to be a resolution. Businessman Mark Perko, who bought the marine's possessions at auction, says he will return them to the Winters family. Perko said he wanted to do the right thing.

Marine Sgt. Winters was the first female servicewoman killed in Afghanistan. The dispute centered on ownership of Winters' military medals, including her dog tags, and other personal effects that were placed in a storage unit by her family.

Relatives said Winters' father became ill and failed to pay the storage fees so the items were put up for auction. They were purchased by Mark Perko.

"Feels heart wrenching," Matthew Winters, Jr., said. "Very violated, I would say."

Matthew Winters said even the flag that draped his sister's coffin is now in the hands of strangers.

"I can't let her, what she did for her country, I can't let her get nickeled and dimed on it to be sold to the highest bidder," said Matthew Winters.

Matthew Winters, who lives in California, said he did not know what became of his sister's keepsakes-- military medals, personal letters, high school graduation gown and her birth and death certificate- until he returned to Northwest Indiana last week. Then he learned Perko had purchased the items years ago and they're in storage at his Hobart, Ind., furniture store.

"If it would have stayed in storage unit or whatever where the mice end up getting it or somebody else would have gotten it and just sold it, but I have always held onto it and kept it, like I say, in good shape," said Perko, who did not wish to be shown on TV.

Perko had told ABC 7 News he was not sure what he would do with the fallen Marine's items- whether he wouldl sell them, donate them or offer her family a deal. Last week, social worker Robert Farmer, who is helping to build a homeless shelter for veterans in Winters' name- said he offered Perko $1,000 and four Bears tickets for the items. Perko declined.

"He just said he had more tied up in it monetarily," said Robert Farmer, exec. Dir, Webb House. "This would be an inspiration to what she gave to help others."

Matthew Winters said he doesn't have much money to offer, but he sees this as his final mission to help his sister.

"I feel I didn't do my job to protector her while she was physically here. But I'll do everything in my power to protect her and her name while she's not here," said Matthew Winters.

Matthew Winters and Perko were scheduled to meet Tuesday night to discuss the belongings.

Sgt. Winters was killed in January 2002 when a tanker plane crashed into a mountain in Pakistan.

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