Monday, July 9, 2012

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At the top of the page is a Purple Heart medal; beneath that is a photo of Army Pvt. Corrado Piccoli, who was awarded a Purple Heart during World War II before being killed in action later in the war.

Pvt. Piccoli and his Purple Heart are at the center of a really interesting report that ran on NPR on July 6. It's about a 31-year-old Vermonter named Zac Fike, who likes to seek out old military medals (in antiques stores, on eBay, etc.) and then tries return them to the soldiers' families. In the case of Pvt. Piccoli's Purple Heart, Fike was able to track down Piccoli's sister, who's now 85 years old, and return the medal to her. (Audio of the NPR story, along with a text version, is available here.)

This is, of course, very Permanent Record. As I listened to the NPR story, many of the details sounded so familiar to me. When Fike first contacted Pvt. Piccoli's sister, for example, she was initially suspicious of him, which is the same response I often get when contacting the family of a Manhattan Trade School student. By the end of the story, however, the sister tells Fike, "We were very fortunate that you were the one who ended up with the Purple Heart. You're part of our family now." I'm happy to say I've been on the receiving end of that type of sentiment as well, and it's a very humbling thing.

I don't mean to equate a report card's significance with that of a Purple Heart. But they both serve as powerful reminders that a simple object can carry stories, stir memories, and even serve as a conduit for intimacy between strangers. And like all lost items that become found, they can trigger the impulse to bring that wayward object back to where it belongs.

(Special thanks to Kirsten Hively for letting me know about the NPR story.)

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Finigan Update: I've now written several blog entries about the Finigan family of Darby, Pennsylvania, because I ended up with a bunch of their receipts, invoices, and other paperwork from the 1940s. In my last entry, I noted that Harold Finigan, who had established a tradition of hanging Christmas decorations in Darby, was likely deceased by now, and I wondered if anyone was now putting up the decorations in his stead.

That prompted the following note from reader Scott Jackson:

I asked a former co-worker about this. She's lived in Darby since the 1960s. She wrote back, "After Mr. Finigan died in 2005, there was a fire and the store that the family owned burned down. Everything in the store was destroyed, along with many of the decorations that Mr. Finigan put up. Darby is not the same place it used to be, which is very sad."

Too bad. But thanks for the info, Scott.

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