CLEVELAND -- A silent reminder of a grateful nation welcomes all to the small Texas town of Keene, its newest arrival—a mystery—that may forever go unexplained.
Laverne Hunter, 90, hasn’t always lived in Keene, yet that is where his older brother Ed would find him, in a manner of speaking, nearly 70 years after they last saw each other before shipping out for the battlefields of World War II.
"If he only knew what's taking place here," said the elderly gentleman, referring to the big brother who raised him following their young mother’s death.
The last time Laverne saw his 23-year-old brother, they were saying goodbye as Ed boarded a bus for Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
"Both of us felt like we was probably going to war right away, maybe never see one another again," he said.
One year later, Laverne found himself on the beaches of Normandy while his big brother marched toward Rosignano, Italy. Ed and his fellow infantrymen from the 135th arrived at the Italian town on July 4th, 1944. The winds of war blew heavy on that day, as did mortar fire. Victory would be theirs, but it would come at a heavy price. Edmond Mazel Hunter was killed in action at the age of 24, posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and buried in the Florence American Cemetery, located in Italy.
"He was a fine young man, tell you what," said Laverne, remembering back to the days when the two were growing up.
Lavern would return home with only memories of his brother to hold onto, until 68 years later, when the strangest thing happened on a Euclid, Ohio street.
"I always keep my eyes on the ground for some reason; I'm constantly picking up neat stuff," said Sean Bartl, 35. He and his girlfriend, Liz, were stepping off the curb on Euclid Avenue when something caught his eye.
"There was no doubt about it, a Purple Heart medal," he said.
The medal had seen better days, and probably the underside of many a car. Bartl immediately called his mother, Kit Nix, who`s devoted her life to serving veterans as the Secretary and Vice President of Veterans and Friends in Chagrin Falls. Bartl asked her to find the man whose name was etched on the medal.
It turns out the stranger was one of nine children, four of them brothers, all who served in World War Two--and one of them was still alive.
"I think it'll be really awesome to give them something that was his and bring him closer," said Nix.
Shipping the Purple Heart to Edmond's only living relative wasn't an option for the mother and son, they wanted a dignified delivery, something more worthy of the man who'd given his life in service to his country—and so they Called For Action.
Together, Fox 8’s Lorrie Taylor, Nix and Bartl readied the medal for its homecoming, a symbol of the man who never made the trip, forever buried on Italian soil. Tucked gently atop the purple satin that filled the box was a second medal, a replica of Ed's Purple Heart, that his brother might know what the original once looked like. Nix told Taylor the owner of Gene’s Outdoor Army Store in Twinsburg donated the replica Purple Heart after hearing her story.
"We will take good care of these for you," Taylor said, as she held the box around which Bartl wrapped a soft black cloth.
Twelve hundred miles away, Laverne Hunter was awaiting Taylor’s arrival, and the medal entrusted to her care.
"This is your brother's Purple Heart,” she said to the 90-year-old as she knelt gently at his side, “Oh, I've never seen one, Oh my, yes," said Laverne, his voice raspy with age as he eyed the medal for the first time in his life.
He told Taylor he couldn’t imagine how his brother’s Purple Heart found its way to a Cleveland suburb, carelessly tossed to the side of the road. There were no Cleveland connections to his family.
Taylor had another surprise for Laverne, framed pictures of Ed's grave, a place the 90-year-old had never been.
“Isn`t that beautiful?” Taylor asked the elderly man as he took in the photo, “It really is,” he replied softly.
Taylor’s final delivery—a written message from a mother and son, who insisted soldiers like Edmond M. Hunter never be forgotten.
“We will forever be grateful to you and all the others who sacrificed so much to keep our country safe and free,” read the letter.
"It's a great honor for me to be even affiliated with this situation, receive it now," said Laverne of his Brother’s Purple Heart.
"Kind of feel like a piece of Ed has come home?” asked Taylor, “Yea, little bit," he said.