One veteran made it his mission to return precious honors to the men that earned them.
Captain Zachariah Fike had a reputation of ‘an honest man.’ The veteran of 16 years traveled the world with the military following in his parents’ footsteps; both former U.S. Army drill sergeants.
Now 33-years-old, he had a hobby of collecting antiques. One Christmas, Fike’s mother thought it wise to combine her son’s two favorite passions into a holiday gift. That year, she gave him an authentic Purple Heart medal.
Sadly, Corrado Piccoli was the soldier that gave his life to earn it. The army translator was killed in action during the early 1940’s, between the border of France and Germany. Fike couldn’t accept an honor that wasn’t his.
“I knew that medal didn’t belong to me. And it sent me on a journey to find the family,” Fike said.
The army had other plans for the young man. Soon after the new year, the 30-year-old deployed to the Middle East as a logistics officer. During a surprise rocket attack at an airfield, the veteran was severely wounded, enough to earn his own Purple Heart medal after a long recovery.
Finally he could continue the search for the rightful owner of his Christmas gift. As it turned out, Piccoli passed the medal to his nephew for safe keeping. Once the boy shipped out to serve a tour in the U.S. Navy, it was locked in storage.
Sadly, the soldier couldn’t pay the storage unit’s rental fees. All the contents were auctioned off as payment, including his uncle’s precious gift. The Purple Heart was passed from owner to owner, from shop to shop. 65 years later, it was returned to one of the six remaining Piccoli family members.
The good samaritan finally tracked her down after a year of extensive research. Fike placed the precious family heirloom in a shadow box before returning the long lost Purple Heart. That experience made it all worth it.
“I saw something very special happen around that return,” Fike said. “…I saw a family come together again for the first time…they had their first ever family reunion 65 years later.”
That interaction was the inspiration for Purple Hearts Reunited. The non-profit organization aims to return long lost military emblems to their rightful owners. To date, he has matched 60 medals, dog tags, and awards to families across the U.S.
See Captain Fike “in action” in the newsworthy clip below.