WINSTED, Minn. (KMSP) - A Purple Heart missing for nearly 70 years was returned home on Sunday. The war medal, found in a dresser drawer in Connecticut, once belonged to a soldier from Winsted, Minn.
83-year-old Leona Drew, sister of WWII hero Lt. Ben Hoffmann, still remembers the day she got the devastating news of his death -- “So dad went to go pick up the telegraph, and it was what he thought – it hurt so much.”
As an army lieutenant, Hoffmann was wounded multiple times during WWII and later killed by a sniper in Okinawa, Japan. He was awarded two Purple Hearts. One went to his family in Winsted, and the other went to his fiancé Lorraine Ducharme.
The couple met during Hoffman’s time at West Point and got engaged. But no one really knew the whereabouts of the second Purple Heart. That is, until Lorraine Ducharme's daughter Shelly Connolly found it in her mother's Connecticut home after she passed away.
“I had no idea about the relationship as solid as the one that I found out about,” Connolly said.
Connolly wanted to get it to the owner so she did an online search and connected with Purple Hearts Reunited, a group that helps family's find missing war medals.
“They certainly deserve every moment that was his,” Connolly said.
National Guard Capt. Zach Fike traced it back to Hoffman's sister Leona, his closest living relative.
“It was one of those things where I practically cried on the phone, I was so happy to hear about that,” she said.
And during a presentation ceremony at the Winsted American Legion, there were more tears of joy. The community got to see Hoffman's letters, photos, and numerous personal items carefully collected and saved.
The Purple Heart is now back home with his family, where it will be cherished -- “It reminds me of what he was and what he did,” Drew said.