Purple Heart found in Tulsa dumpster 20 years ago reunited with family

Posted at 8:43 PM, Mar 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-27 11:56:24-04

TULSA -- Years of not knowing finally comes to a end, after a Purple Heart medal found in a dumpster years ago is reunited with the recipient's family. 

Decade after decade a Tulsa man has tried to reunite the medal with a family member. Major Zachariah Fike, who runs a non-profit called Purple Hearts Reunited in Vermont, tracked down the family. Now, Robert Wilder's niece is happy he's back home.

The doorbell rings and the dog starts barking, but Milo wasn't the only one excited.

"I can't believe you found this," Kate Wilder said. "It's remarkable."

This story begins in Memphis.

"Bobby, who has a wonderful look on his face, has a really impish grin," Wilder said.

Robert A. Wilder, known as Bobby, born before WWII. But soon he would join the navy.

"We have a letter somewhere in the family from Franklin Roosevelt indicating his condolences," Wilder said.

He never got to meet his niece Kate. But now, she holds a piece of the uncle she never knew.

"They landed on Sipán and the story that I heard from the family was that he was killed as they went ashore," Wilder said.

That was June 16th,1944.

The Purple Heart was sent to Kate's grandmother after her uncle died. Eventually it was passed to Kate's son, who also served in the Navy.

"He kept it for awhile and then it got lost," Wilder said.

Steve Stefanoff found the medal in a dumpster 20 years ago near 31st and Sheridan in Tulsa.

"I lived half a mile from this house, my dad's bar is about a mile from this house where the purple heart was found, pretty coincidental," he said.

Kate says before her son left for the Navy, he kept a storage unit. She says while overseas he forgot about his things.

"It ended up being tossed out, of all things to be tossed out," Wilder said.

A true testament to Bobby's life will sit proud on purple velvet a case labeled with his name. 

"I just wonder if he's looking down on, if he's contacting us in some way," Bobby's niece said.

His mother's Gold Star Pin will soon sit next to it. It's a dedication to a man who served his country and gave his life for you and me.

If you've lost a Purple Heart or in search of one, you can contact Major Fike by clicking here.

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