"I remember asking him, 'Well, how did you feel?' He said, 'I was scared every mission,'" said John Capper, recalling the moments he spent with his older brother, Staff Sergeant Robert J. Capper, who served in World War II.
"They all had that look. He left at 18 years old and came back 100 years old," Capper said. Like many little brothers back then, Capper looked up to his brother and wrote to him often during the war. "He had just graduated from Saint Johns Prep in Brooklyn. He played football and he ran track and he was my hero," Capper said.
Sergeant Robert J. Capper was a tail gunner on a B-17 bomber in Foggia, Italy. On October 20, 1944, his aircraft was shot down. He was injured but survived the crash. For his wounds he was awarded the Purple Heart. But after his death in 2001, his Purple Heart medal disappeared -- until now.
"We receive about three medals a month," said Vermont National Guard Captain Zach Fike, the founder of Purple Hearts United. Fike never knew the Capper family, but after receiving a lost medal as a Christmas gift last year, he started something that would eventually bring them together. "I knew this was something that didn't belong to me. This set me on a year long journey to find the family and return it," Fike said.
That was the first Purple Heart he returned. Since then, with a lot of detective work, he has returned 60 purple hearts to families through his non-profit. "They sacrifice so much -- some with their blood, some with their lives," Fike said.
Captain Fike also made that sacrifice for his country. He fought in Iraq and was injured in September of 2010. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service in the Vermont Army National Guard. While he'll always keep that one, he has found and collected more than 200 that don't belong to him. His mission is to get them back to their rightful owners. He often finds the medals hidden away at antique stores. And now people send him ones they find.
While finding a purple heart is an important part, it is the moment of returning them that means the most to Captain Fike. He traveled to Albany this past weekend to complete his mission for Staff Sergeant Robert J. Capper. "He's no longer with us but this is an opportunity to celebrate his life and his sacrifice for our country," Fike said.
Capper has decided to donate the medal to the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga, and his name will be placed in the National Purple Heart Hall of Fame.
"I'd like to thank the Purple Heart United people -- it's just terrific," John Capper said.
A message from a little brother who now has a piece of his hero back.
To find out more and donate to Purple Heart Reunited, click here
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:09 AM EST2014-03-08 15:09:01 GMT
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Saturday, March 8 2014 9:58 AM EST2014-03-08 14:58:38 GMT
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Saturday, March 8 2014 8:40 AM EST2014-03-08 13:40:47 GMT
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Saturday, March 8 2014 8:36 AM EST2014-03-08 13:36:58 GMT
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Saturday, March 8 2014 8:31 AM EST2014-03-08 13:31:36 GMT
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Saturday, March 8 2014 8:17 AM EST2014-03-08 13:17:30 GMT
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Friday, March 7 2014 7:28 PM EST2014-03-08 00:28:44 GMT
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