When a police detective in Florida recently went shopping at a local antique store, he expected to have a normal, uneventful outing. But instead, what he found put him on a mission to reunite a family with a lost piece of its history.
During his shopping trip, Bradenton Police Detective Anthony Cerniglia found a Purple Heart medal. It had been awarded more than 70 years ago to Alan D. Beckwith, a paratrooper in World War II who was killed in action on June 7, 1944, the day after D-Day.
The medal immediately caught the eye of Cerniglia, who is also an Army veteran.
“I didn’t know what to think. It was kind of odd,” Cerniglia told Fox 13.
His confusion turned to anger when he saw how much it was being sold for. The medal was listed at $10,000, and Cerniglia couldn’t believe someone would try to profit off such a meaningful medal.
“I got extremely angry when I saw the price tag,” he said. “It’s hurtful. It’s crushing. We know what these soldiers do to earn this.”
In that moment, Cerniglia decided he was going to buy that medal and return it to its rightful home. He negotiated with the dealer, explained his intention to track down the family it belonged to and was able to buy the medal for a bit more than $1,000.
Once he had the medal, his new mission began. However, that mission has run into some roadblocks. For one, it’s a complete mystery where the medal had been for the last 70 years before it wound up in a small antique shop. It has been impossible to track where it came from.
“That would be a story I would like to be able to tell,” Cerniglia said.
It also wasn’t immediately clear how he could find members of Beckwith’s family.
“It’s been pretty tough. Mostly, I’ve been using Ancestry.com,” Cerniglia said.
Along with his purchase of the Purple Heart, Cerniglia also obtained Beckwith’s birth certificate and a 48-star American flag. He posted information about his search on Facebook, and he received a flood of responses from genealogists and private investigators who wanted to help.
“It was amazing. I had so many people repost and share,” he said.
Cerniglia’s search has led him to discover Beckwith’s gravestone at Long Island National Cemetery. More importantly, he also learned that Beckwith’s closest living relatives are a niece and nephew who are in their 60s. He’s now focused on tracking them down, and he hopes to be able to get in contact with them very soon.
“It would be a proud moment for me to be able to return this to the rightful owners,” Cerniglia said.
It is inspiring to see someone spend so much of his hard-earned money and work so hard to do the right thing for a family he doesn’t even know. Here’s hoping for a happy ending to this story.