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BUTLER, Ind. — Alvin Hankey of Butler recalls hearing the news his brother had died as a result of wounds sustained in World War II.
“I was only 7 years old when he died,” Hankey said. “I was walking home from school, and (my brother) came running out of the house. Mom got a telegram that Charles had died. I can remember that.”
“Charles” was Pfc. George Charles Hankey, born in 1925 in Tilbury, Ontario, Canada, The Star of Auburn reports. With his parents, George and Victoria, and older sister, Olive, he moved to Butler before Alvin was born. He enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces on April 2, 1943, and served in the 104th Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry Division. He died May 1, 1945, and is buried at Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, France.
For years, Alvin Hankey has cherished the U.S. flag that was issued to the Hankey family after George’s death. As a child, he would wear a hat that George had given him while home on furlough. A framed photograph of the soldier in his military uniform hangs in the Hankey home.
Now, Alvin Hankey is able to remember his brother as he admires the seven medals — including a Purple Heart engraved with George’s name — and Airborne Wings that the veteran received.
Until recently, Hankey was unaware of the whereabouts of the medals. They were returned to him through Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit foundation based in Burlington, Vt. The organization was created by Capt. Zachariah Fike, an active duty officer of the Vermont Army National Guard.
Using military databases, memorial websites and the Internet, Fike’s mission is to rescue lost or stolen military medals and return them to the veterans who earned them or their families. Fike earned a Purple Heart himself after he was wounded in Afghanistan on Sept. 11, 2010. His efforts to reunite medals with their owners and families have received nationwide attention and have been reported in the national media.
Fike began his quest to return Purple Hearts after he received a Purple Heart medal as a Christmas gift in 2009. His mother had purchased it at an antique store. Fike embarked on a year-long search for the original recipient’s family and saw how the medal’s return affected them. Fike donates a considerable amount of his own time and finances to the Purple Hearts Reunited project.
In the case of George Hankey’s medals, Hankey said his brother had married before going overseas and after his death, the medals were given to his young widow, Virginia. She died in the late 1940s, and her mother contacted Hankey’s mother to see if she wanted the medals, Hankey said. Hankey’s mother declined, and what happened to them between that time and their return to the Hankey family is mostly a mystery.
According to Fike, a woman found the medals in an old cedar chest that once belonged to a World War II veteran. The woman contacted Purple Hearts Reunited for help tracking down the Hankey family.
Along with the Purple Heart and Airborne Wings are a Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Campaign Stars, World War II Victory Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge. A photograph of George dressed in his soldier’s uniform also was found in the chest. Alvin Hankey said the photograph was taken at the Walker Studio in Butler when his brother was home.
For now, Hankey has arranged the medals in a box and plans to display them in a special case.
“We knew that they were out there,” he said.