The story of Manuel “Tony” Moreno’s missing Purple Heart is a tale of great distances and great determination, reports Michigan Live.
It starts in California, then winds through Korea, Canada, Michigan, and Wisconsin before circling back to California, where Moreno’s family is now in possession of his Purple Heart, thanks to the persistence of Ann Arbor’s Kathryn Kinal.
The medal, along with some of Moreno’s other military memorabilia, was stolen years ago, the family says. Just how they ended up at an auction in Washtenaw County, Michigan, in 2012 remains a mystery.
Kinal, an avid memorabilia collector, said she went to the auction after seeing a Purple Heart and other military shadow boxes were for sale. Her goal was reuniting them with the rightful owner. It took years.
“Some things just don’t belong in a stranger’s collection,” she said. “That is such a personal, honorable thing. That does not belong on my shelf, in my room.”
Kinal went to the “super auction” determined to buy the boxes with the intention of investigating whose they were. When she got them home, she learned the boxes had belonged to Manuel Moreno, and that he had been a POW.
“That just fascinated me,” she said. “It just kind of grew from there.”
Kinal started searching the internet, looking for any traces of Moreno or his family. For the longest time, she found nothing useful.
According to the Orange County Register and Moreno’s half-brother, Ray Hernandez, Moreno volunteered for overseas duty after serving in Anaheim’s Co. K, 224th Infantry, 40th Division, National Guard. He was sent to Korea in February of 1951.
News stories from 1951 say that his unit, which had already been in combat, came under attack just below the 38th Parallel, and that he was severely wounded. He and another soldier spent five days trying to get back to their battalion headquarters, but were captured. Moreno spent 27 months in captivity.
Kinal came across the story but had a hard time finding either Hernandez, which is a very common name in southern California, or Moreno.
Finally, she sent an email to the governmental offices of East Troy, Wisconsin, asking if by any chance anyone knew of a Korean War POW named Manuel Moreno who lived in the area.
It seemed like a stab in the dark. But it paid off.
Three days later, Kinal got an email from Paula Bates, Moreno’s sister-in-law, that said he had been wounded five times and received five Purple Hearts, but was only in possession of four.
“I just got darn lucky about making that connection,” she said.
But Kinal also sadly learned Moreno had died in February 2014.
“To this day, I’m just kicking myself that I didn’t do this sooner,” she said. “I wish I could have spoken with Manuel. The man was amazing. His service to our country just blew my mind.”
She sent the shadow boxes first to Bates in Wisconsin, who then sent them along to Hernandez in California.
“It was the right thing to do,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine why I was holding another man’s purple heart.”
Moreno’s family in California reacted with shock and disbelief.
“We were jumping up and down,” said Claudette Hernandez.
Claudette said her husband called a third brother, Bill, and told him to put on his best Hawaiian shirt to come over and see what had been returned to them.
“The whole thing is incredible,” Claudette said. “We can’t believe she went to so much trouble to locate his family.”
[Image via Michigan Live]