Search for owners of 11 forgotten Purple Hearts in state's possession continues
The Illinois treasurer's office is trying to return to their rightful owners 11 Purple Heart medals that were left in safety deposit boxes and ended up in government possession.
Treasurer Michael Frerichs said the first time he saw a Purple Heart in person was shortly after he was elected in 2015. He was being shown around his new office that had a display case of interesting objects recovered in old safety deposit boxes.
"'Whose medal is this?'" Frerichs recalled asking his staffers, who didn't have an answer. "So I said let's track down the person, let's make a greater effort."
Since then, Frerichs' office has reunited seven medals either with the people who earned them or their descendants. The oldest active military award in the U.S., a Purple Heart is bestowed to service members wounded in action.
But Googling names and searching public records over the years has gotten Frerichs' office only so far. Last year, the office turned to the public for help by releasing just the names and last known cities connected to the person that rented the safe deposit boxes in which the Purple Hearts were found.
"Our ask is simple. If you recognize a name and you know they had contact with the city, then reach out to them or their relatives because maybe we have their Purple Heart," Frerichs said.
This year Frerichs authorized the release of additional information his staff has gathered for each safety deposit box.
The unclaimed medals include one belonging to Michelle Steward or Patricia VanHasselaere, who are believed to have lived in Round Lake. The treasurer's office received the medal in a safety deposit box in October 2018. The box also had a will for VanHasselaere.
Other suburban Purple Hearts that need reclaiming include one from a box owned by Darien resident David Gorski. The box was submitted to the state in October 2003 by Hinsbrook Bank & Trust in Darien. Based on the other objects in the box, treasurer's office staffers believe the Purple Heart may have been given to a World War II veteran.
Another medal was found in a box belonging to Lawrence M. Burns, sent to the government by Advanced Bank in South suburban Homewood in November 1997. The office believes Burns has chosen to live in a remote area in California.
To access the state's unclaimed property database, in which all 11 forgotten Purple Hearts are registered, visit illinoistreasurer.gov/icash. The database includes an estimated $3.5 billion in unclaimed property.