Illinois state treasurer begins mission to return lost Purple Hearts to rightful owners

Sunday, November 21, 2021
State treasurer returns lost Purple Hearts to rightful owners
What does a Purple Heart mean? The Illinois state treasurer is on a mission to return 11 lost U.S. military medals to their rightful owners.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- When his grandfather's Purple Heart was placed in his hands, Dr. Kenneth Furlough was moved.

"Having a piece of him that he sacrificed so much for was a great honor and also a great reminder that we all have a journey, and it's up to us to really make it count," Furlough said.

SEE ALSO | Black WWII veteran who was denied the Purple Heart due to racism finally receives the honor at 99

Private First Class Phillip Allen Morris of Harvey was shot while serving in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts. The private's sister placed one in a safe deposit box. But when the bank closed, it went to the state treasurer and his office tracked down the Furlough family.

The Illinois state treasurer is on a mission to return 11 Purple Hearts to their rightful owners.

The Purple Heart is presented to service members who have been wounded or killed while serving. The treasurer has returned seven so far, and those families understand the importance.

"It goes to show you how important family is. It goes to show you how you maintain those lines of contact as you move forward throughout the years so these stories aren't lost," Furlough said.

That's why Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs said he wants to return more of these medals.

"We have returned seven Purple Hearts since coming into office, but we have run into some cold cases with these 11. So we are asking for your viewers to help us return these medals," Frerichs said.

Six of those 11 medals are from the Chicago area. Frerichs released the recipients' last names: Wilson, Burns, Smith, Gorski, Isbell or Shayer, and Steward or VanHasselaere.

"These medals belong in the warm embrace of their family rather than in a cold vault in the basement of my building," Frerichs said.

For Furlough, the medal is a connection to a grandfather he never met.

"Due to the fact that he passed, my only wish is to ultimately carry on his legacy in a positive direction to really make a change," Furlough said.

When asked how much the medal means, Furlough said he "really put it into words."

"Yes, it's a piece of medal, right? But a piece of medal that a history and a certain level of sacrifice that I can only wish to pay it forward," Furlough said.