State searching for owners of 11 forgotten Purple Hearts, including one found in Round Lake
A Purple Heart medal found sitting in a safe-deposit box in Round Lake is one of 11 the Illinois State Treasurer's Office wants to return to their rightful owners.
The oldest active military award in the U.S., a Purple Heart is bestowed to service members wounded in action. But instead of being kept by the recipients or their families, these 11 have been sitting untouched for years in banks and now are considered unclaimed property.
"These medals personify honor, sacrifice and duty," Treasurer Michael Frerichs said Tuesday in launching Operation Purple Heart, his office's effort to reunite the medals with their owners. "They belong in the loving care of families rather than hidden inside our cold basement vault."
Since 2015, the office through internal efforts has returned seven Purple Hearts to their owners or heirs. Now, Frerichs is bringing the public into the process.
"We've decided we're going to ask for a little help," said spokesman Greg Rivara. "We're really looking for the spark of a memory to start the conversation."
Only the names and last known cities connected to the family that rented the safe deposit boxes -- the earliest dating to 1992 -- were released. The names Steward or VanHasselaere are associated with a bank in Round Lake for a box received by the treasurer's office Oct. 31, 2018.
Other are linked to Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Homewood; Peoria; Oak Park; Darien; Decatur; Channahon; and, O'Fallon. Visit illinoistreasurer.gov for details.
The hope is that memories or clues will surface during Veterans Day celebrations and tributes so the medals can be returned. Inquiries will be vetted when an electronic claim is made.
Typically, a bank account, investment product or contents of a safe-deposit box is submitted to the treasurer's office if there is no activity for three years. By law, the treasurer must try to return unclaimed property no matter how long it takes. There is $3.5 billion in the state's unclaimed property program, also known as I-cash.
Military medals are among the most difficult items to return, according to Frerichs, because the name under which they were submitted as unclaimed property might not correspond to the name of the honoree, or the person who received the medal is not related to the person who submitted it.
Neither the armed forces or federal government maintains a comprehensive list of awardees, he added.
How can a military medal be forgotten?
Andrew Tangen, superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Lake County, said the veteran likely placed their medals in a safety deposit box and either died without family or without family knowing the box existed.
"It actually happens all the time where people neglect to tell their family of all the places property may be," he said.
A bank may have gone defunct without the family knowing or the veteran moved, forgot about it and was placed in a long-term care facility or incarcerated when the bank closed, he added.
Rivera encouraged people to check the unclaimed property list, www.illinoistreasurer.gov/icash, twice a year.