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Stolen symbols of valor replaced decades later

Purple Hearts Reunited also tracks down lost medals

SAN ANTONIO – Stolen symbols of valor belonging to Congressional Medal of Honor recipient PFC Milton Lee were replaced Tuesday nearly 50 years after he was killed in action in the jungles of Vietnam.

Betty Landry, his father’s sister, was presented with replacements of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart stolen from his grandmother’s home in the 1970s, several years after his death.

“The only one left was the Congressional Medal of Honor behind a door,” Landry said.

Landry said she was grateful to a family friend, who Lee would often visit, as well as VFW Post 688, both in Boerne, for contacting Purple Hearts Reunited, which replaces or tracks down lost medals.

Ret. USMC Lt. Col. Mitchell Bell said, “We’ve done 150 medals in 2015. We receive one to three a week. We have over 400 medals that we’re still trying to get back to families.”

He said the organization has dedicated volunteers who search for medals being sold online, and genealogists who try to track down family members.

Bell said the valuable medals inscribed with the recipients’ names can fall into the wrong hands.

“These things are traded like baseball cards, and I hate to say that,” Bell said. “There are collectors out there that I don’t agree with, but they do it.”

He said over the years, medals are lost, family members pass away, or they’re sold at estate sales or thrift stores.

“So if anybody out there happens to have one of these and you don’t know where it belongs, send it back to Purple Hearts Reunited,” Bell said.

Landry said her nephew was abandoned as a child and made a ward of the state before his grandmother took him in. He went on to graduate from Harlandale High School and enlist in the U.S. Army, serving with the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile).

She said he was a quiet, religious young man who as a boy climbed atop a tree with a big yellow cat, while he read his Bible.

“He wanted to be a minister,” Landry said, which is why he was known as “The Preacher” by the other soldiers.

Yet in the midst of a firefight with the North Vietnamese, Lee took the radio telephone he operated off of his back, telling another soldier to cover him, said Bob Worrall, the quartermaster for VFW Post 688.

“He charged off through the jungle firing his M-16 from the hip,” Worrall said.

He said Lee did it twice, killing the enemy that was setting up their automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades to fire on his platoon.

Lee finally sustained a mortal wound. He was only 19.

Worrall said Post 688 has been instrumental in getting Lee more of the recognition he deserves, including the naming of a 10-mile stretch of I-10 from Bexar County to the Kendall County line.

He said it was dedicated last year as “PFC Milton A. Lee Medal of Honor Memorial Highway.”