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Vietnam vet reunited with Purple Heart

Ceva Brown (left) stands by her uncle, Harold J. Walker, as he receives his Purple Heart and other military medals Wednesday from the Illinois treasurer's office.

Ceva Brown (left) stands by her uncle, Harold J. Walker, as he receives his Purple Heart and other military medals Wednesday from the Illinois treasurer's office. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

Years ago, Harold J. Walker put the Purple Heart he was awarded for being wounded in battle in Vietnam into a safe deposit box in a Loop bank.

When the bank closed, Walker had no idea where the medal ended up. His search was fruitless.

So when Walker’s phone rang late last year and a fellow from Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs’ office claimed he had the Purple Heart and two other military awards that were in the safe deposit box, Walker didn’t take any chances.

Harold J. Walker's Purple Heart and other military medals were in a safe deposit box when the bank closed. The Illinois treasurer's office returned them to Walker on Wednesday.

Harold J. Walker’s Purple Heart and other military medals were in a safe deposit box when the bank closed. The Illinois treasurer’s office returned them to Walker on Wednesday. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

“He did not trust the Postal Service so he drove 11 hours from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to retrieve them,” said Frerichs, who on Wednesday held a ceremony at the Thompson Center to return the medals.

Frerichs’ office collects unclaimed personal property and auctions off things that aren’t claimed within 10 years. Military medals, however, are the exception.

There’s no time limit on those being claimed. The treasurer’s office holds onto them until they are reunited with their rightful owner or their heirs.

Walker, 67, who lived in LaSalle County until retiring to his home state of Mississippi in 2005, was elated to collect the medals.

“This is indeed a very proud moment for our family,” Walker said Wednesday.
“My son already requested them.”

He offered few details about the wounds he suffered while serving in the Army infantry.

“I don’t think he enjoys talking about his time in Vietnam,” said Frerichs, who hopes media coverage from the event will spur others with unclaimed medals to call his office.

“We, right now, have more than 100,” he said. “In the past when we’ve done this we saw a spike in people reaching out to our office.”

“It’s one of the more satisfying parts of the job,” Frerichs said.