The Grade Blog

Tuesday, May 07 2013 06:51 PM

BHS class helps reunite another family with a relative's WWII Purple Heart medal

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Jenna Sims (fourth from left) of the Bakersfield High archiving class and a member of the BHS JROTC returns the Purple Heart medal of WWII Army Pfc. Norval Monroe to his nieces, Suzanne Monroe, left, Linda Newman, and Rosellen Monroe-Miner, after it was recovered in Tulare. Monroe was killed in action in France in 1944. At far right is Leon Thomas, past state commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Veterans salute as Anthony Maiden of Bakersfield High School plays taps at the ceremony where the family of WWII Army Pfc. Norval Monroe received his lost Purple Heart. Monroe was killed in action in France in 1944.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    In ceremonies at the Kern Veterans Memorial, the Purple Heart medal of WWII Army PFC. Norval Monroe was returned to his family after being found in Tulare.

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    The family of Army Pfc. Norval Monroe was given this Purple Heart after Monroe was killed in action in France in 1944. Although it was lost to the family for years, the military medal was returned to surviving family members on Tuesday.

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    By Felix Adamo

    The family of Army Pfc. Norval Monroe was given this Purple Heart after Monroe was killed in action in France in 1944. Although it was lost to the family for years, the military medal was returned to surviving family members on Tuesday.

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    By Felix Adamo

    This Purple Heart certificate was awarded to Norval Monroe and his family after he was killed in action in 1944 during World War II. Photo courtesy of Bakersfield High School archiving class.

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    By Felix Adamo

    A photo of Norval Monroe, courtesy of the Monroe family. The Purple Heart belonging to Norval A. Monroe was reunited with his family on Tuesday at the Kern Veteran's Memorial Wall of Valor. Monroe was killed on Aug. 27, 1944 in France.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime story last March when research done by Bakersfield High School students resulted in the return of a Purple Heart to the family of a sailor killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Turns out it wasn't even a once-a-year event. Teacher Ken Hooper's students have done it again less than two months later.

In a short ceremony held Tuesday at the Kern Veterans Memorial in downtown Bakersfield, a Purple Heart that years ago had been pawned at a shop in Tulare County was returned to the surviving family of its recipient.

"It means a lot to us to have this medal come back to where it belongs," said Visalia resident Susanne Monroe, who attended the event with her sister, Rosellen Miner and their cousin, Linda Newman.

The three are surviving nieces of Army Pfc. Norval A. Monroe, who was killed in action on Aug. 27, 1944 in Nazi-occupied France.

"It's unbelievable," said Newman. "When Susanne called me and told me it had been found, I thought, 'Oh, this is wonderful.'"

The medal had remained with various family members for years following Norval's death, but at some point it was lost. It's unclear exactly what happened, but in 2006, Vietnam combat veteran Art Boehning was in the now defunct Tulare Jewelry & Loan when something caught his eye.

"This kid comes in to sell a Purple Heart," Boehning recalled.

The young man said he found it in a dumpster next to an urn filled with ashes.

The store owner purchased the medal, and Boehning immediately purchased it from the store, though he doesn't remember what he paid. Ultimately, Boehning gave the medal to Andy Wahrenbrock, a fellow combat veteran who had a long association with the Kern Veterans Memorial Foundation.

When the two heard about the success Hooper's archiving students had had in tracking down the previous family of a Purple heart recipient, Wahrenbrock went to Hooper for help.

This time he put one of his best students on the job, 17-year-old Jenna Sims.

"I started searching online," Sims said. We found his grave listing, the date of his death, what infantry (unit) he was in."

But it wasn't enough.

"Jenna needed a copy of the Tulare Community War Album of World War II to read an obituary and track next of kin," Hooper said. "The book was only available offline, so a letter, including two dollars and a self-addressed stamped envelope, was sent to the Sequoia Genealogical Society."

That information was enough to allow Hooper to reach the Monroe family.

"It's special that the kids have an interest in archiving and the sense of history that comes with that," Monroe said.

For Sims, solving this mystery is something she'll not likely forget.

"It makes me happy," she said, "that I could do something important for this family."

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