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Vietnam vet reclaims long-lost Purple Heart

Ceva Brown (left) was among the relatives who joined her uncle Harold J. Walker when he reclaimed his long-lost Purple Heart medal on Wednesday at the Thompson Center. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

Years ago, Harold J. Walker put the Purple Heart he had been awarded for being wounded in Vietnam into a safe deposit box at 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.

“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 — southwest of Cook 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, adding: “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 reach out to 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,” Frerichs added. “It’s one of the more satisfying parts of the job.”

Harold J. Walker had put his Purple Heart and other military decorations in a safe-deposit box in a Loop bank. But when the bank closed, he did not know how to find them. They ended up as unclaimed property with the Illinois State treasurer’s office, which returned them to Walker on Wednesday. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times