Purple Heart Returned After 7 Decades


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Pfc. John Eddington was preparing for deployment to Europe to fight in World War II when he got the news his wife was pregnant with their daughter. Stationed in Texas, he wrote a letter intended for his little girl, expressing his love for her and how he longed to see her. Years later, this letter was found in a box, and on Saturday will finally will be able to be read by his daughter, Peggy Smith. With that letter, will be given a special memento of her dad's, his Purple Heart.

Eddington never made it home from WWII and Smith grew up knowing nothing about her father because the subject upset her mother. Smith now lives in Dayton, Nevada, thousands of miles from where the Purple Heart medal was left in Missouri. Eddington was originally from Leadwood, about 75 miles from the letter and his medal.

Found by Donna Gregory, 14 years ago, the letter and Purple Heart were in a cardboard box filled with WWII memorabilia. Since then, Gregory has been searching to find the daughter, and rightful owner of these items. In the box of memorabilia there are several letters, including the War Department's message to Eddington's mother about his death in June 1944 in Italy, four months after Smith was born. After Eddington's death the Purple Heart medal was awarded to him for being killed in action.

In Gregory's search to track down Peggy Smith, using libraries and the Internet, she called every Eddington in Missouri, trying to find the right Peggy. She had no trail. After using Facebook, and friends helping to reach out, Gregory eventually found the correct Peggy Smith.

Smith was aware her father died in war, and he earned a Purple Heart; but she had no idea the whereabouts - until Gregory called.

"It was an unforgettable moment," Gregory said. Smith said she was "stunned."

The heartwarming story of the letter, along with the medal touched Gregory. She would not quote from the letter, Gregory felt Smith should read it first.

"It's basically a soldier who is pouring out his heart on paper to his daughter," Gregory, 46, said of the letter. "It's a letter written so she would know how much her daddy loved her."

Barring his death in war, Smith knows almost nothing of her father, since her heartbroken mother could rarely bring herself to discuss the love of her life.

"I think she was just distraught. She was so much in love with him," Smith said. "My mom didn't tell me much about my dad. I learned as a young girl not to bring it up because she would just get so upset."

Gregory decided to make the drive to Dayton, near Carson City, to deliver the memorabilia to Smith. Gregory wrote a letter to the Patriot Guard Rider explaining it would be more powerful if veterans presented the medal to Smith. Early Tuesday, Gregory, her sister and a friend left St. Louis heading towards Smith in Nevada.

On Saturday, they will arrive via parade which will begin in Carson City and make the 15-mile trek to Dayton. There Smith will receive the medal and letter in a ceremony at the local high school.

"I'll be crying the whole time," Smith said.

Smith's children and most of her 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren will be there. Both Smith and Gregory are preparing for an emotional ceremony as Smith reads the letter from her father for the first time, and holds that medal in her hands.

Gregory said, "I've waited for the finale of this journey for over a decade."

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