Background Image

VFW Magazine March 2018 : Page 27

PHOTO COURTESY OF ZACHARIAH FIKE Army Capt. Zachariah Fike holds a small snowman in February 2010 along the Salang Pass in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan while serving with HQ Troop, 1st Sqdn., 172nd Cav Regt. Fike, who also served in Iraq, was wounded during his Afghanistan tour and received a Purple Heart. family member and receive his recov-ered Purple Heart. The Piccoli celebra-tion was held by chance on Aug. 7, which the family later discovered is National Purple Heart Day. “It was yet another sign,” Fike said, “that this was meant to be.” ‘I’M NOT IN THIS FOR THE MONEY’ Although the military has awarded more than 1.8 million Purple Hearts to sol-diers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen for bravery in combat, not all were engraved with the recipient’s name. When Fike receives a medal that was engraved, he begins searching. Thanks to the internet’s ever-expand-ing collection of genealogical, memorial and military databases, not all of Fike’s searches are as time-consuming as his first one. Sometimes he can locate the recipient or his or her family with only a few keystrokes by searching various pri-vate and public databases. Once he locates a family, he gives them the option of having the medal simply mailed back to them or receiving it via a “return ceremony” that he helps arrange. At a typical ceremony, Fike, or the char-ity’s “Valor Guard” volunteers who help return medals, will give a speech detail-ing the history of the Purple Heart. They then present the recovered medal and PHOTO BY SARAH MATTISON “Corrado A.G. Piccoli.” He combed the internet but found nothing. Three weeks later, he was deployed to Afghanistan for a tour with the 172nd Cavalry Regiment and had to abandon his search. But he never forgot about Piccoli’s Purple Heart, which he had tucked away safely in his parents’ home in New York. Back home in December 2010, Fike resumed his internet search. Thanks to an updated genealogy site, he dis-covered that Piccoli was born in Italy in 1923, immigrated with his parents to Watertown N.Y., and enlisted in the Army in 1943. It was a start. Sadly, as Fike soon discovered, on Oct. 7, 1944, Piccoli was awarded the Purple Heart after he had been killed in action in France, less than a year after he had enlisted. After more research, Fike locat-ed Piccoli’s 87-year-old sister. “The Purple Heart was all my parents had of my brother,” she said. “They hung onto it for dear life, and we kids were allowed to hold it on special occasions.” Later that year, Fike helped arrange a celebration where three generations of the Piccoli family came together, for the first time ever, to honor their fallen Purple Hearts Reunited founder Zachariah Fike and the organization’s executive director, Sarah Corry, have helped return more than 400 lost or stolen Purple Hearts to their rightful recipients or families. Corry, who began working for Purple Hearts Reunited in 2016, is the daughter of a twice-wounded Vietnam War Marine. other supporting materials they might have located during their research to the recipient or relatives. Local military and other officials often take part, and media frequently cover the return ceremonies. These returns can be costly. Each one averages $1,200 for purchasing, refur-bishing and framing the medals, as well as traveling to the ceremony. To cut his costs, Fike confesses he has often slept in a rental car during some returns. He has received donations via his Purple Hearts Reunited nonprofit charity but has spent thousands of dollars of his own money reuniting medals with families. “Now that I’m married and have two children, it’s getting harder to afford the money and time I’m spending,” Fike said. “But I am never going to take money for what I do. I am not in this for the money.” PURPLE HEARTS TURN UP ‘EVERYWHERE’ Despite the costs and time his research takes away from his family, Fike shows no signs of slowing down. He still scours internet auction sites, Craigslist and stores for engraved Purple Hearts. Last year, his charity spent $50,000 buying 125 medals. His nonprofit now employs an execu-tive director, Sarah Corry, the daughter of a twice-wounded Vietnam War Marine, MARCH 2018   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 27

Previous Page  Next Page

Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here