Purple Heart found at N.Y. Goodwill has link to Pennsylvania city
The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (MCT)
Someone in Hazleton, Pa., may know the story of a U.S. serviceman whose World War II Purple Heart was recently found in a western New York Goodwill donation box.
Not much is known about Pvt. James E. Roland, who died May 23, 1944, while fighting with the American Expeditionary Forces at Anzio, Italy.
Researchers are trying to find the rightful keeper of his military decoration and hope someone in Hazleton remembers the Roland family, who lived on West First Street in 1940.
A Goodwill worker discovered the Purple Heart mixed in with other donations in June. Goodwill posted a message on Facebook, asking for help in finding the Purple Heart recipient's family. Soon, friends contacted Linda Hastreiter, of Buffalo, N.Y., a coordinator for a nonprofit group that supports military personnel.
Roland's story, minus a few key points, began unfolding.
The Purple Heart was in good condition and still in its box, said Hastreiter, a regional coordinator for the Veterans' Recovery Program of the Patriot Guard Riders. The back of the medal bears an inscription, James Edwin Roland, which was a standard tradition in World War II, Hastreiter said. The honor was accompanied by Roland's picture and an age-yellowed government letter.
"In the Patriot Guard there is so much passion about what we do, that you're going to do everything you can do to find the missing link," said Hastreiter, who helps the group track down unclaimed veteran remains so they can be buried with full honors. Their work often involves researching the veteran.
Hastreiter's research found Roland enlisted in 1943 in Niagara Falls, N.Y., but she could not connect him to any potential relatives in that part of New York. Roland was buried in Westover, Clearfield County, along with his mother, Emma, and father, Kesey. Internet searches showed there were six Rolands living in that part of Pennsylvania. Hastreiter called them all. One responded: James's third cousin, Mary Roland Struble. Struble's grandfather, Clair Roland and James's father, Kesey were cousins. Kesey died in 1937, she told Hastreiter.
It was a major break.
Struble told Hastreiter that Roland was born March 7, 1914, in Westover and educated at Westover and Hastings schools. He graduated from Hastings High School in May 1933 and completed a mechanical course in Ohio before being employed by Duncan Motors Inc., Niagara Falls. He enlisted in the Army Sept. 13, 1943, and entered basic training at Camp Croft, N.C. Struble told Hastreiter he was later transferred to Fort George, Meade, Md., and in February 1944, was moved overseas. Roland died on May 23, 1944.
Hastreiter's research continued.
She found U.S. Census information from 1940 that stated James's mother, Emma, then 60, twin sister, Margaret Eunice, 26, and older brother, Harold C., 36, lived in Hazleton that year in the city's 11th ward. Emma was the head of household at the family home, 537 W. First St., and Margaret was employed as a music teacher.
Hastreiter theorized Margaret held onto the Purple Heart and moved to Niagara Falls.
"Was she the one that had the Purple Heart? Did she get married and move to Niagara Falls?" Hastreiter questioned.
Hastreiter called Hazleton City Hall on Wednesday and left a message retrieved by city clerk Lisa Shema, hoping to find out more about the family's time in Hazleton. Shema relayed information to police Chief Frank DeAndrea, who alerted local media, asking for relatives of Roland to step forward. DeAndrea, who served in the military, said a Purple Heart, especially one given posthumously, is the highest honor a veteran can receive. In the event of a posthumous honor, the deceased's medal is granted to the next of kin.
Purple Heart history is extensive, DeAndrea said, noting it is the epitome of the phrase, "Freedom isn't free."
In the meantime, Hastreiter said the Patriot Guard will form a motorcycle and passenger vehicle escort to bring the Purple Heart to Struble, who will keep it until a closer related relative steps forward to claim it, she said.
Hastreiter said the escort trip will begin in Buffalo, and the guard will meet with Patriot Guard of Pennsylvania in Dubois. She said though she is hoping for 50 to 60 guard participants, she wouldn't be surprised if more participate.
"We are used to diligently working and finding families (of veterans) and putting mysteries together," she said.
The Roland story has taken about a month to piece together. Since 2010, her group buried more than 100 military personnel that were unclaimed at death.
Anyone with information on the Roland family may contact Hastreiter through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by postal mail at Iron Island Museum, Attention Linda Hastreiter, 998 Lovejoy St., Buffalo, NY 14026.