ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Memorial Day is less than two weeks away. While many will reflect on those who have served our country, the state treasurer hopes that recognition helps with a new mission.
“With Memorial Day coming up, we think this is a great time to remind people, if they had a veteran in their family, check our website and see if we have a medal or ribbon that belongs to someone in their family,” said Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs.
Frerichs says the state is in possession of more than 100 unclaimed military medals and ribbons. He says the awards are often forgotten about and left in old safe deposit boxes before being turned over to the state.
“But those military medals don’t belong to us. We can’t earn that honor. They’ve been earned by someone else, and we’re trying very hard to return them to their rightful owners,” said Frerichs.
Local Vietnam veteran Eric Willard says some service members aren’t vocal about their accomplishments. He tells us his dad, who fought in World War Two, mostly stored his medals out of sight.
“They never meant a lot to him that he would speak about, but he kept them all his life. And when he died at 90 years old, he left them for me. And that told me he valued those medals later in life more than we knew earlier,” said Willard, the outreach associate coordinator for Veterans Drop-in Center.
“Chances are a lot of these people were very humble about what they accomplished and what they did, many didn’t want to talk about what they did, and that’s why these medals turn up in our hands,” Frerichs said.
Willard says reclaiming lost treasures could also help families learn more about their past.
“It may teach them about their heritage and their history if they were able to obtain those,” he said.
While Willard is hopeful more medals find their way back to their rightful owners this Memorial Day, he believes awards are only one way to acknowledge a veteran’s service.
“I think the recognition is important, and I think the symbol of recognition is sometimes a medal, but it’s also sometimes a hug, or a handshake, or a ‘thank you buddy, I appreciate what you did.”
Since 2015, 7 Purple Heart medals along with several other medals, have been returned to families in Illinois.
You can check for unclaimed possessions here.