Sunday, November 17, 2013

Samaritan Sunday (November 17, 2013) -- The Purple Heart of a Utah Beach Fatality Finds A Proper Home

[If you should choose to adopt this prompt to contribute your own stories of folks who have gone out of their way to lend genealogy-related assistance to others, I would greatly appreciate a mention to Filiopietism Prism whenever you do so.  Thank you!  And please do use the same photograph below to illustrate the prompt.  ;-) ]

Matthew Carlson probably did not set out to be a Good Samaritan when he went to a swap meet in Glendale, Arizona.  But Carlson was a Vietnam Veteran and so when he came across a mixture of trinkets and costume jewelry at one table he immediately recognized a Purple Heart medal sitting in among the jumble.  Carlson had $20.00 with him and asked the vendor how much he wanted for the Purple Heart.  The asking price was $40.00. As Carlson put it, he did not want to see the medal, "hanging on the shirt of some kid going to a rave party or something like that."  He offered the vendor the full $20.00 he had and walked away with the medal.

It is not unusual for military medals to surface at swap meets, flea markets and in antique shops, but since 2012 there seems to have been more instances of medals such as Purple Hearts being sold in such places and on the Internet.  Some point to the Supreme Court's overturning (6 to 3) of the "Stolen Valor Act" on free speech grounds as a catalyst for increased sales of military awards.  The Act, introduced by Democrats in both the House and the Senate, criminalized falsely claiming the right to high military honors. It was an expansion of existing law that prohibited the unauthorized manufacture, sale or wearing of military decorations and medals.  When it was struck down it also allowed medals to be bought and sold. Among genuine collectors, Purple Hearts, which are awarded to those killed or wounded in combat, can sell for as much as $500.    

Clearly, Matthew Carlson did not like the idea of someone possibly wearing a medal such as the Purple Heart if it was not earned -- all Supreme Court endorsed free speech considerations aside.  He was not a collector himself, but he took the medal he rescued from the jumble of trinkets and examined it and its presentation case.  The medal was in good shape and it was engraved on the back, "For Military Merit, Clarence M. Merriott."  The medal sat safely in Carlson's home for some time as the idea of trying to find out who Clarence Merriott was and how to locate him or his family percolated in his mind.  

The military will not release information about service members due to privacy concerns and so Matthew Carlson seemed to be on his own to track down the story of this particular Purple Heart -- until he asked his son if he knew how to use the Internet to research things.  His son looked at his computer neophyte dad and simply said, "Yes."  And with that the search was on.

The search expanded outward from Carlson and his son to include a U.S. Congressman, a WWII veteran of the 300th Engineers, a discovered letter, a name inscribed on a WWII Memorial in Adair County, Oklahoma [hat-tip to the worthiness and usefulness of Heather Rojo's Military Honor Roll Project ], and a helpful woman with the Adair County Historical Society who happened to know some Merriotts in the area and who found a distant cousin of Clarence Merriott.

To read the full story about Clarence Merriott and the role played by a scrapbook compiled by a teenage girl that contained newspaper clippings from 1943 - 1944 about men from the Adair area who had served in WWII, go here.  You will see a photo of Clarence Merriott, what is believed to be his last letter to his family, a picture of the Adair War Memorial and the Purple Heart, AND you can learn about the other Good Samaritans involved in this story.  

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Photograph of the The Good Samaritan sculpture by Francois-Leon Sicard (1862 - 1934).  The sculpture is located in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, France.  The photograph is by Marie-Lan Nguyen and has been placed in the public domain by her. See,
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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