A WWI Purple Heart medal held in Clark County Prosecutor’s Office storage for almost 70 years will soon be returned to its deceased owner’s family in Arizona thanks to a Clark County woman and a Northeastern High School student.
“There’s a lot of people who this medal didn’t mean anything to, but to me it meant a lot that this person was going to get this medal back,” said Pat Betton, a Northridge woman who helped track down the great granddaughter of Raymond H. Criswell. Criswell’s name was on the back of a Purple Heart medal that was stored in the prosecutor’s office since it was confiscated from a roving thief in the 1940’s.
With some online investigative work by Betton and the prosecutor’s office desire to get the medal back where it belonged, the Purple Heart — adorned in a shadowbox containing a picture of Criswell in uniform and an American flag — will soon be shipped to Arizona and returned to his family.
A passion for genealogy is what helped Betton find the lost owner’s great granddaughter, Anne Homan. Although the two live more than 1,800 miles apart, the website Ancestry.com connected them within a matter of minutes. If not for the website, Homan believes she would never be connected with this piece of their family’s past.
“I’m very excited to have a piece of my family’s history back that I didn’t even know existed,” Homan said. “In doing research for the future generations of my family, I’m thrilled that this has happened.”
Other than the fact that the Texas man enlisted in the U.S. Army in Columbus in 1913, there were no connections to the Ohio area. But Criswell’s WWI Purple Heart medal ended up in Clark County, taken from a theft suspect in a 1944 federal case. The thief was taken out-of-state by U.S. Marshals and after his arrest in Clark County, and no clues or details as to who the Purple Heart belonged to were left behind, said Clark County Assistant Prosecutor William Hoffman.
Since then, the 1943 WWI Purple Heart medal sat in the storage room of the county prosecutor’s office for about seven decades before it was discovered recently while employees were cleaning out the office’s evidence room. Once they discovered it, Hoffman knew they had to try to return the precious heirloom to its owner or his family.
After prosecutor’s office employees ended up at a dead end in their own search, Clark County Prosecutor Andrew Wilson turned to a family friend and students at Northeastern High School to help track down Criswell’s family.
“The only thing that stuck out was how cool it would be to get this back to who it truly belongs to,” said Jessica Fulton, a sophomore at NEHS who wanted to help find the medal owner’s family. She quickly asked Betton, a family friend, to help because she knew Betton had years of experience with genealogy. Within a few days, Betton had confirmed with Homan that Criswell’s medal belonged to her family.
Criswell was shot in the arm while he was fighting on the front lines in France, Homan said. He was injured just 45 days before WWI ended and suffered paralysis from his wounds, but the internal scars of war are what most of his family remember.
“We were told he had ‘shell shock’ from his injuries and he suffered some psychosis for years, which in today’s time would probably be considered PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” she said.
Homan and her family did not know much else about Criswell, who was in and out of veterans hospitals for the majority of his life until he died in 1979. She and the rest of her family never knew Criswell had received a Purple Heart before Betton reached out, but she is grateful for the efforts of those who were involved in the process of returning it, she said.
“Tools like Ancestry.com make this such a small world, and it’s so amazing with technology how easy it is to share such information,” Homan said.
The cost of the project will be covered with a donation made by the Clark County chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart to the prosecutor’s office.
1943: Raymond H. Criswell awarded the Purple Heart medal for his service in WWI, in which he was wounded on the French front lines
1944: Criswell’s medal confiscated off a roving thief by Clark County law enforcement
2014: The Purple Heart medal found in storage and returned to owner’s living family