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Family of Montana Purple Heart recipient has been found

Posted at 1:33 PM, Nov 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-21 15:33:51-05

The family of a fallen service member has been located after his Purple Heart medal was found in a Great Falls trash container.

The medal for Sergeant Robert M. Johnson was found in the trash by a man looking for scrap metal.

When he showed the medal to Aaron Hartnell at Pacific Steel & Recycling, Hartnell bought it in an effort find Johnson or his family.

The non-profit group “Purple Hearts Reunited” announced on Wednesday night that it found the surviving family.

According to the organization, Johnson was from Neihart and was killed in action when he and his crew were shot down November 29, 1943, at Keita Harbor in Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific. At the time of his death, he was married to his love Dorothy.

He is buried in the Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Maxwell, Nebraska.

Hartnell is currently working with the family to arrange the return of the medal.

Click here to learn more about Purple Hearts Reunited.

  • Reported by Joe Huisinga

(NOVEMBER 19, 2018) A Great Falls man is trying to return a piece of history to its rightful place after it was found in the trash.

About 2 weeks ago a man selling scrap at Pacific Steel and Recycling told employees he had found a Purple Heart in a Great Falls dumpster.

The Purple Heart is a medal awarded to service men and women who are wounded or killed in service.

When Pacific Recycling Branch Manager Aaron Hartnell learned the man planned to pawn the medal, he decided to buy it and began searching for the owner.

The Purple Heart awarded to a Robert M. Johnson has not yet been claimed.

As part of his search Hartnell has reached out to Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit dedicated to returning lost or stolen medals, he has also posted to social media and reached out to Malmstrom Air Force base for help.

“It’s hard to say exactly what happened, I have a hard time believing that someone would throw this away intentionally it’s pretty special,” says Hartnell. “I just want to make sure that it gets back to who it’s supposed to belong to.”

Along with the medal the man also found a set of Army Air Force wings which he also gave to Hartnell to return to return to their owner.