Tech Sergeant Wiljo Matalamaki never came home from World War II, but a medal recognizing his sacrifice made an incredible journey after it disappeared 49 years ago and finally–after decades of research by a compassionate stranger– made its way back to his family.
Matalamaki received his Purple Heart—a medal given to American service members killed or wounded in combat—after his bomber was shot down over Europe in 1944. None of the crew were ever found.
30 years later, a woman aptly named Tami Heart was digging through a dump and found the medal, still in its case, tucked into a box of old clothes. Matalamaki’s name was engraved on the back, and a neighbor realized Heart’s own mother was living in the very cabin where the soldier grew up.
Heart spent more than 20 years trying to find the owners, doing everything from researching the airman and his family, tracking down his headstone, and taking the medal to veterans’ events in hopes of returning the medal to its owner.
Heart had lived there for ten years before a knock at the door came from people who were visiting old family landmarks and wanted to stop by the old cabin. It was the Matalamaki family.
After Heart’s decades-long search, she had a hard time letting go of the bond she’d formed with a young man she’d never met, but she knew it was time to “turn him over.”
The Purple Heart was formally presented to the family in a ceremony Sunday at Fort Snelling, Minnesota.
(WATCH the WCCO video below or READ more at the Star Tribune) Photo by oregonmildep, CC
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