Purple Heart sold for $4.99 at Goodwill; Mesa couple tracks down military hero's family

MESA, AZ - It’s a line that we all know well, "one man's trash is another man's treasure," but a Mesa, Arizona couple knew they had found a treasure that was probably never meant to be trashed when they spotted a Purple Heart for sale at Goodwill.

Laurie Hardy couldn’t believe when her husband spotted the Purple Heart with a price tag for $4.99.  

The couple bought it, determined to find out who the war hero was and return it and in turn, they also discovered a story that was nearly lost right along with the medal.

"This is one of the highest military honors you could get. This is something the family will cherish for a lifetime," said Hardy.

Their only clue was the name the name on the back, Eual H. Whiteman. Hardy posted a picture and a plea for help on Facebook and says it was shared over 35,000 times, including with a group called Veteran Buddy Finder. The organizer learned Private Whiteman died in 1991 in Seattle and was buried in the Willamette National Cemetery in Oregon.

He was a highly decorated veteran, not only earning the Purple Heart but also three battle stars, a Combat Badge and a Presidential Unit Badge with the 82nd Airborne Division.

She also found one of his only living relatives, Phyllis Lawson, an ex-sister-in-law in Missouri and connected her with Hardy.

“She wanted to repay me the $4.99!” Hardy laughed recounting the call, “I said ‘no, this is my good deed for the day.’”

Lawson says Eual’s father was also a war hero who had been awarded a Purple Heart, but Eual never told them about his medal.

She says Eual was 16 years older than her ex-husband so they didn’t keep close contact.

She did know he joined the rodeo and was featured on "Life" magazine for bull riding.

He was also a stuntman in the old western “The Way West” staring Sally Fields and Kirk Douglas.

"He was a very impressive looking man, very tall and muscular," said Lawson.

Lawson says a nephew inherited the medal and stored his things with a friend who must’ve donated the box without looking at the contents though she’s not sure how it ended up in Arizona.

She was stunned to hear from Hardy, but is thankful the medal was found and can now be passed down in the family for generations to come.

"Legacy is something we don't have a lot of and it's precious to ya," said Lawson.  

Goodwill says it sorts through thousands of donations a day and while workers are trained to report anything of value, sometimes items get overlooked and they try to rectify the situation as soon as they find out.  

In this case they helped share the call for help on social media.

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