Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Here's yet another story of lost military medals being found and then returned to their rightful owner. In this case, the medals were won during World War II by a soldier named Hyman Markel, who was killed toward the end of the war while his wife was seven months' pregnant. So that child, Hyla Merin, never knew her father, and her mother rarely talked about him because the memories were too painful for her.

Fast forward to last October, when the manager of a California apartment complex found a box containing letters and a Purple Heart in an old storage locker. He got in touch with a group that operates as a lost-and-found service for military medals. That group soon figured out that the Purple Heart had belonged to Markel, the WWII soldier. His widow -- the one who'd been pregnant at the time of his death -- had lived in the California apartment building in the 1960s but had apparently left the box behind.

The widow is now deceased, but her daughter -- Hyla Merin, the one who never got to know her father -- is now the proud owner of his Purple Heart, along with several other medals awarded to her father. That's her on the right in the picture at the top of this entry. You can read more details here.

At least two local news stations in California produced segments on this story. You can see them here:

(My thanks to Roger Faso for pointing me toward this story.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

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What you see above are two British World War I medals that were awarded to a man named Joseph Brown, who died in 1967. The medals were recently inherited by a friend of Brown's family named David Gillespie, who works at the UK's National Archives. Gillespie never knew Brown but wanted to learn more about the man whose medals he now owned, so he did some research, consulted with various family members, and came up with an account of Brown's military career.

As Permanent Record stories go, this one is fairly standard stuff. The medals weren't found objects, and Gillespie already knew the identity of the man behind them, so no serious detective work was required, and there were no major revelations. So why am I bothering to write about this storyline? Because I'm fascinated by the ribbons attached to the medals. They're so colorful and bright -- the one on the right looks almost tie-dyed!

My response to the ribbons made me realize that we (or at least I) tend to visualize World War I exclusively in black-and-white, maybe with sepia-toned accents, which has the effect of making it seem less real, more like a fable. The presence of color -- especially bright, vibrant color as seen in those ribbons -- has a completely transformative effect on my perception of the that period in history. Interesting.

By coincidence, I happen to own an old ribbon catalog. It's from the 1940s, so it's not nearly as old as Brown's medals. Still, it has some interesting stories to tell, which I wrote about in an article for the very wonderful Cabinet magazine several years ago. If you're curious, you can see that here.

(My thanks to Jacob Sherman for pointing me toward this one.)

Friday, February 1, 2013

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The painting you see above is at the center of a very interesting story involving my friend Shane Arbogast. A stranger recently got in touch with him to say that he'd been combing through items at a Goodwill shop in Florida and had spotted a painting with Shane's signature on it. (You can just barely make out Shane's name at lower-right.) The guy didn't purchase the painting but was curious about its back-story, so he googled Shane's name and e-mailed him.

Shane immediately recognized the painting as something he'd done for a class assignment while attending art school in Sarasota, Florida, back in the early 1980s. He's not sure what happened to it after that (he thinks he may have sold it in a student show, but he's not certain), but in any event he hadn't seen or thought about the painting in 30 years. He didn't want it to vanish into the ether again, so he arranged for the guy who'd gotten in touch with him to purchase it for him:

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The best part is that Shane and his girlfriend are longtime thrift store shoppers and have purchased their share of thrift store paintings over the years. Now Shane himself is a thrift store artist. It's a great example of something coming full-circle.

There's more here -- possibly a lot more -- but I don't want to get ahead of myself. Suffice it to say that I plan on interviewing all the principals in this story and hope to bring you a more fleshed-out version soon.