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How you can give back to those who gave everything.

(BPT) – When a dog named Smuckers started digging in her Colorado backyard, her owners had no idea what she would find. The object was shiny and metal, and it could have been a coin, a bottle cap or a washer. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be none of these things. It was something much more valuable.

What this golden Labrador mix had found was a Purple Heart Medal, one of the most revered medals in all the armed services. The oldest currently awarded medal, the Purple Heart is awarded only to members of the armed forces who have been killed or wounded in combat while serving their country.

The medal Smuckers found was engraved with the name Corporal Richmond Litman. Smucker’s owners had never heard of Litman, and with no way to return it, the Purple Heart remained with them for 10 years-until the pair learned about the Vermont-based non-profit Purple Hearts Reunited. Purple Hearts Reunited was founded by Vermont National Guard Captain, Afghanistan veteran and Purple Heart recipient Zachariah Fike. Zach and his team work to reunite Purple Heart medals with their rightful owners, or in the case of the rightful owner’s passing, the recipient’s family. The group says it receives three to five medals in the mail each week, all without an owner.

Upon receiving the medal in Colorado, Captain Fike went to work researching Corporal Litman and learned that the serviceman earned his Purple Heart in 1950 while serving in the Korean War. Litman is deceased, but Fike and other Purple Heart recipients traveled to his grave to honor him and reunite him with his medal. Afterward, the search began to find Litman’s family and give the medal a permanent home with those who should rightfully have it.

Honoring their sacrifice with our service

Purple Hearts Reunited is just one of the missions funded by the Purple Heart Foundation-a non-profit organization that funds programs, resources and other opportunities for engagement, camaraderie and support among Purple Heart recipients, as well as supporting programs that aid all United States veterans.

In addition to Purple Hearts Reunited, the Purple Heart Foundation also supports service dog programs such as NEADS. NEADS provides service dogs to assist disabled veterans, children and adults with day-to-day activities. The dogs can help their masters tackle chores and transition to prosthetics, or provide company in public places and offer valuable social interaction. Service dogs can also help combat veterans cope with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). NEADS is the first service dog program to be invited to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to explain its program and how it can help veterans. Funding from the Purple Heart Foundation helps NEADS provide service dogs for veterans free of charge.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation was originally chartered in 1957. In addition to helping nonprofits like Purple Hearts Reunited and NEADS, it also provides employment assistance, grants and scholarships, and support for veterans’ organizations that align with its mission. That mission is to honor the sacrifice military veterans make for their country by helping them make a smooth transition from the battlefield to the home front. To learn more about the Purple Heart Foundation, the veterans it serves and how you can help, visit PurpleHeartFoundation.org.

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