Lost Purple Heart being returned to family after almost 70 years
The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Olin White was just a teenager when he received his first Purple Heart in 1943. He likely would have received another had he not been aboard the USS Drexler during World War II when two Japanese kamikaze pilots crashed into the ship, sinking it in under a minute.
White was one of 333 soldiers onboard the Drexler on May 23, 1945, and also one of the 183 who sunk with it. White’s body, like the rest of the sailors who died that day, was never found.
Now, almost 70 years later, the Purple Heart White received just two years before his death surfaced in a box of family memorabilia at a Jacksonville home. The only problem was the prestigious medal didn’t belong to the family who found it.
“I contacted everybody in the family and nobody knew who (Olin White) was,” said Debera Allen, the woman who found the Purple Heart in her family home. “That (Purple Heart) represented a life for our country and I didn’t want anything to happen to it.”
Allen said she began calling veterans organizations around town to see if anyone could help her find the owner. Someone suggested she call the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and that’s how she got in contact with John Cooney, adjutant for the Beirut Chapter of MOPH.
Cooney picked up the Purple Heart from Allen’s home and promised Allen they would do everything they could to find the family. He asked the MOPH members if anyone wanted to take on the project, and Dan Stoy, sergeant at arms for the MOPH, jumped at the opportunity.
“I kind of felt a connection to it,” Stoy said. “I’m a three time Purple Heart recipient and just to be able to take this and search for the person’s family ... it’s an honor. I’d like to think that somebody would be able to do the same for me later on down the road.”
Stoy started the search with archived naval records, but the Navy couldn’t release him any information because he wasn’t related to the Purple Heart recipient. He started searching online and found a Facebook page for USS Drexler survivors; he began e-mailing people on the page and eventually got some answers.
White’s niece, Lynn White, was living in China Grove, about five hours away from where the Purple Heart was found. Stoy contacted her and told her he’d found her late uncle’s Purple Heart during what he described as a “very emotional 45-minute phone call.”
“My wife can tell you I just sat there and pretty much cried in front of my computer after I called her,” Stoy said. “To me, this guy’s a hero for what he did in the past. It’s a World War II vetthere’s not a lot of them around anymoreand it’s an honor to be able to take this and deliver it back to the family.”
The medal, Stoy said, will give the White family the closure they never had, since White’s body was never found.
“There’s actually a picture in Lynn’s house of Olin sitting on a rocking chair with Lynn in his lap back before he went to combat,” Stoy said. “I guess she’s got the rocking chair in her house, and behind the rocking chair is this picture of them sitting on the rocking chair together. I know when I talked to her on the phone she got very emotional with me; she’s just very excited that it’s finally coming home.”
Stoy will be traveling with MOPH Commander Verl Matthews to China Grove on Saturday to deliver the Purple Heart to Lynn White.
Allen said she’s just thankful the medal has finally found its home after all this time.