Treasurer's office aims to reunite veterans with military medals

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JEFFERSON CITY - Memorial Day is a time to honor the veterans who have risked their lives to serve our country. Some of the most prestigious military medals in the world are sitting in the Missouri State Treasurer's Office waiting to be reunited with the hardworking men and women who earned them. 

The treasurer currently holds $810 million in unclaimed property, but that doesn't include physical property he holds, which often comes from abandoned safe deposit boxes.

The Purple Heart medal that belonged to a man named Charles W Armstrong is an example of one of these unclaimed valuables.

"Charles Armstrong's medal is an interesting story," said Spencer Girouard, deputy director of communications for the state treasurer's office.  "The medal, it's a Purple Heart. It was mailed to us anonymously with a note with just a man's name, that he lived in St. Joseph, Missouri."

The Purple Heart is one of the most prestigious military medals awarded in the name of the president of the United States to any member of the armed forces who has been killed or wounded.

More research reveals that Armstrong served in the Army during WWI. The Purple Heart was awarded almost 100 years ago which makes it difficult to identify relatives, but Meghan Lewis, director of communications for the State Treasurer's office said it's an on-going effort within the office. 

"When Treasurer Zweifel took office in 2009, he saw there were military medals being sold to the highest bidder in auction and immediately went to action and put together legislation that helped ensure that not only can any future treasurer not sell these medals but that they're protected," Lewis said. 

The treasurer's office is now able to share the last known address of the owner of the safe deposit box in which the medals are found.

An entry in the Missouri Secretary of State's Digital Heritage website listed Mr. Armstrong as living at 1511 Ashland Ave. He was born in Marshall County, Iowa and was inducted into the Army on April 28, 1918. He was a private and severely wounded Nov. 1, 1918. His tenure of overseas service lasted from June 4, 1918, to April 2, 1919.

A record in the 1918 St. Joseph City Directory lists Mr. Armstrong at the Ashland address. In the city's 1921 directory, his occupation is given as a chauffeur, or driver, for the fire department's Hose Company Number 5.

The treasurer's office gets unclaimed property every week. 1 in 10 Missourians has unclaimed property, and more than $870 million of unclaimed property is waiting to be claimed by Missourians.  

Lewis said there's a wide range of stories as to why the unclaimed property comes to the department, including major life changes such as deaths or moving.

Scott Harper, Director of unclaimed property, said it's the reunion is very important. 

"The medals and any other piece of unclaimed property, it's not the state's, it's those individuals, and we try our best to go out and get that property back to those owners because it's theirs, and it's the right thing to do," Harper said.

"The important thing to do as we all age is to share those important pieces of information so that we have less unclaimed property coming to the treasurer's office," Lewis said. "Let people know about your bank accounts let them know about your safe deposit boxes."

"It's a very rewarding job," Harper said. "We're basically finding people and reuniting them either with something from their safety deposit box like a medal or giving them money back. It's a very rewarding thing to be able to do."

So far, the treasurer's office has returned more than 100 medals to their owners and hopes to return more with the help of citizens and its unclaimed property website, ShowMeMoney.com, so veterans like Charles W Armstrong and their families can be reunited with these precious honors. 

[This story has been edited for clarity.]

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