This Veterans Day, a group of vets and their supporters in Vermont's Addison County celebrated victory in a very special mission.
American Legion Post 19 in Bristol was key to solving a mystery of sorts, reconnecting a nearby family with a priceless military artifact that had been lost — after a long and twisting journey.
"It was a surprise," said Wayne Darling of Monkton, referring to how he recently learned of the rediscovery of the original Purple Heart honoring an uncle he never knew.
Clay Darling was a radioman and gunner on a torpedo-bombing plane in World War II when he was shot down. His remains were never recovered.
According to the commander of Vermont's American Legion Post 19, the medal had been sent to Darling's grieving mother in Idaho, but when she died, it was handed around and even used as payment in trade for an artist's services.
It was then apparently forgotten until a veteran working in an Arizona tattoo parlor found that Purple Heart in the shop's storage area.
It is unclear how the Purple Heart got to Arizona, according to people involved with the project to return it.
The tattoo shop employee knew she had to act, so started researching the name engraved on the back of the medal. Additional searches pointed to Vermont and Ron LaRose of American Legion Post 19.
"This is what the Legion's all about," said LaRose, who promised to reunite the heart with the fallen serviceman's relatives. "We're in the job of taking care of veterans."
Darling's family can't stop saying "thank you" to everyone who had a hand in getting the Purple Heart back where it belongs.
"It's just so impressive that they have this code that they make sure they take care of their own," said Darling's niece, Chris Cook of Charlotte. "It's really important to us to have this back to our family."
"At some point, I'd like to get to all those relatives sprinkled around the country — take it with me when I travel so they can see it," Wayne Darling said of the Purple Heart.
The Darling family vowed never to let the rediscovered Purple Heart be misplaced again.