Ceremony Canceled: Family of veteran eager for war medals return

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV/AP) -- Two Purple Hearts belonging to World War II veterans are being returned to their families in South Carolina.

A group based in Vermont called Purple Hearts Reunited works to return the missing medals.

The first ceremony on Wednesday is in North Myrtle Beach where a Purple Heart found last month during a house renovation in Conway will be returned to the family of Army Tech. Sgt. Odell Holden who was killed in the war.

A second ceremony was being held in Summerville at the home of Joan Bilsback, but had to be canceled.

She was supposed to be presented the Purple Heart awarded to her uncle, Army Pvt. Robert Lamar Swinson, who fought in the war and died in 1985. His medal was found by a Fulton County, Ga., resident.

Posted on the door of the Cuthbert Community Center in Summerville is a hand written letter, apologizing for the cancellation of a purple heart reunion ceremony, but that didn't keep the memories from flowing.

"He really was my favorite uncle, and I wanted to do the right thing by him. We're a military family," says Joan Bilsback of Summerville.

Bilsback says she was contacted by the organization Purple Hearts Reunited of Vermont. The founder, Capt. Zacariah Fike, wanted to return the medal given to Bilsback's uncle, Robert L. Swinson, during World War II.

Bilsback says Atlanta police officers somehow came across the medal and reached out to Fike.

Bilsback isn't quite sure how her uncle was wounded.

"It was in the Pacific. I really don't know the particulars. I was 9, 10, somewhere in there, and these are the things you just don't discuss in front of a child," said Bilsback. {}

Bilsback recalls her uncle died in 1985 and was a man withdrawn from the rest of the family.

"You heard the conversations, he had changed, he did not go out, he was perfectly happy working by himself in the groves," she said.

But Bilsback says she knew a different side of the Army Veteran.

"He was very kind to me he let me follow him around and do and, he was good to me. He enjoyed having me in the truck and we'd ride around and go different places," said Bilsback.

She says she knew he earned the Purple Heart, but didn't know what happened to it.

"I don't know how important that medal was to him. I know that when my cousin found it. He told him it didn't concern him and he put it away and he never talked about it," she said.

Bilsback said Swinson would appreciate the fact that his medal is being returned.

"These are the heroes of yesterday and you don't want to forget them. And I think it makes things maybe it helps us to understand these young men of today," said Bilsback. {}

A spokesman for Purple Hearts Reunited says they don't have a new date scheduled for the reunion ceremony.

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