Purple Heart reunited with Bristol family

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 6:04 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2021 at 4:48 AM EST
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BRISTOL, Vt. (WCAX) - It was a full-circle moment for a Bristol family on this Veterans Day after a ceremony put a missing Purple Heart back in the hands it belongs.

A misplaced piece of family history finally found its way home this Veterans Day.

“My uncle was reported missing in 1945,” said Monkton resident and Idaho native Wayne Darling, one of the last living relatives of his uncle, Clay Darling.

The U.S. Navy aviator served on the USS Randolph. He was shot out of the sky just days before the bombing of Hiroshima, which effectively ended World War II. The young man was lost at sea, his remains never recovered.

A short time later, Darling’s Purple Heart arrived on the family’s doorstep in Idaho. But 23 years ago, the seven-decade-old heirloom made a detour. “Somehow the medal showed up in Maricopa, Arizona,” Darling said. It was nearly a thousand miles away at a tattoo parlor. The family says how it got there is a mystery. An artist inked a customer who pawned the Purple Heart as payment.

This past September, the shop rediscovered the medal and knew it needed to be returned to its rightful owners. Employees at the Arizona tattoo parlor tracked down the Darling family using just one tiny clue, an inscription on the back. The family says the small box proves it’s a small world.

“The medal went from Idaho to Arizona and from Arizona to Vermont -- think of the mileage that medal has gone,” said Bristol American Legion Post 19 Commander Ron Larose, who helped coordinate the hand-off, transporting the precious medal from the Grand Canyon State -- to the Green Mountain State.

“I was able to be that vessel to bring it back to Vermont,” Larose said. “When you’re a commander, you’re involved in a lot of things, but this is pretty unique.”

Born after the war, Wayne Darling never met his uncle. “This is as close to knowing him as I’ve ever been,” Darling said. But in retrospect, he says this experience isn’t the only strange coincidence. “I remembered standing on the hanger deck of the USS Randolph in 1968 and looking up at this plaque hanging on the wall and seeing my uncle’s name -- kind of an out-of-body twilight zone feeling.”

The medal is another reminder Clay is still with the Darling family.

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