STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — Decades after he died on the battlefield, one fallen soldier’s loved ones were presented with his Purple Medal.
For her whole life, Susan Watson’s Uncle John lived only in memories.
“I heard stories about him…He was well loved, you just understood that,” she said.
She knew he died fighting in World War II, but the details were hard to come by.
“My father wouldn’t talk about the war,” Watson explained. “I’d always wondered what happened.
A couple years ago, another of Watson's uncles died. Before he passed he gave her a picture of Uncle John, his fallen brother. It was the first time she’d ever seen John’s face. Susan was inspired to start digging into her family tree, in search of answers. But all she found was frustration.
“Then a trip, a river cruise, an excursion to Trier and the American military cemetery all of the sudden changed things dramatically,” Watson said.
While her husband wandered around snapping photos of the crosses marking each soldier’s grave, Watson was drawn to a memorial wall listing all the names of soldiers without a marker in the cemetery.
“And I saw the name,” she said.
It was her name, her maiden name. John Maruscok. Watson’s name is spelled Maruszak, but she says you get used to misspellings growing up with a name like hers.
“At the wall, at that moment in time, I knew it was him,” Watson said.
That’s when Purple Hearts Reunited got involved. The non-profit works to reunite families with medals that were stolen, misplaced or simply lost to time.
Operations Director Erin Faith Allen said, “A dog has dug a medal out of the backyard. They’re found in the sea, they’re found by the side of the road, there was even a medal found in a Broadway show.”
The organization is sent several medals a week.
On Thursday, PFC John Maruscok’s Purple Heart was returned to his family.
Watson learned her uncle died Sept. 8, 1944 when the tank he was standing next to was hit. He’s still considered missing in action, his remains never identified. Watson hopes she’ll be able to get a DNA match for any of the remains at the American military cemetery to finally put her uncle John to rest.
“I’m still amazed that they were able to put the pieces together and to answer some questions," Watson said. “I feel like I’m able to, on behalf of my family and for my cousins, bring this a little bit full circle not. And that’s nice.”
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