(WASHINGTON) — Lois Jane Moore gets emotional when she talks about her brother, Luther Sullivan.
“I hardly remember him,” she told ABC News.
Moore, 73, from Barrackville, W. Va., was only 5 years old when Sullivan was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart medal, after he was killed in combat during World War II in the Philippines. But after their mother died in 1975, Sullivan’s medal, one of Moore’s few memories of her brother, were thought lost forever, until last month.
“I looked up ‘descendants of Luther Sullivan’ on the Internet, started making phone calls, and found his sister’s husband, who connected me with his sister,” Martha Hamrick Fernicola, 62, a Desert Storm veteran from Fletcher, N.C., told ABC News how she traced the medal back to Moore.
It turns out the medal had been in the garbage at an apartment complex in Athens, Ga., where a woman found it and gave it to another man. The award changed hands again when the man gave it to his brother, Charles Jervis, a veteran, who then passed the medal onto Fernicola.
“Charles doesn’t like to be in the forefront, so I said ‘I’ll do it for you,’” Fernicola said.
Within three days, Fernicola was on the phone with Moore making plans to return her brother’s Purple Heart. “She was so excited she was crying!”
“We really appreciate the work that she has gone through to track us down,” Moore’s husband, Charles Moore, 74, told ABC News. “It’s almost mind-puzzling that she could find us.”
Fernicola, who volunteers and sells quilts at Charles George Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Asheville, N.C., said she was just doing what anybody should do.
“A lot of people don’t know what to do with them, like this, whoever found it threw it away,” Fernicola said. “They don’t know how precious these things are to us.”
Next month, Fernicola and her grandson will present the Purple Heart medal at a ceremony at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in Fairmont, W. Va., which was Fernicola’s idea. “It’s important that the family is recognized and that solider is memorized so that he lives on forever.”
“I love my history. I love my country, and to get this medal back to this man’s family means everything,” Fernicola said while at the medical center. “There are other veterans here listening to me and I can see it in their faces what this would mean to them. It’s a family thing.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Matt McFarland, CNN
Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
Dylan Byers, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN