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Purple Heart award arrives 70 years late

Posted: September 1, 2013 - 6:21pm  |  Updated: September 2, 2013 - 12:01am

FAIRBANKS — A Fairbanks woman has received her brother’s Purple Heart 70 years after his disappearance.

Gladys Terry recalls clearly the day she stood at the train depot in Tacoma, Wash., and said goodbye to her brother, Pfc. James Chester Mohn, the Fairbanks News-Miner reported Sunday.

He was shipping off to Southeast Asia to serve as an Air Force radioman in World War II.

She couldn’t help but feel she would never see him again, and she was right.

On June 6, 1943, Mohn’s C-47 alpha cargo plane disappeared on a flight somewhere near eastern India and what is now Bangladesh.

For 70 years, Terry had no idea what ultimately had become of her brother, but in 2010, a company called MIA Recoveries found wreckage they believed came from Mohn’s plane in Bhutan, a small country wedged between India and China.

It took MIA Recoveries two years to locate her in Fairbanks and tell her of the discovery.

“I guess that’s the reason I’m living this long,” Terry said.

One month ago, after 70 years of uncertainty, Terry finally received closure when the Tacoma Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 91 hosted a ceremony honoring Mohn.

The VFW acted out a radio re-enactment of the plane’s discovery, calling out each of the three crew members’ names, followed by a call back: “Accounted for.”

When they got to James, the radio operator called his name twice with no call back, before finally receiving the answer: “Account for and now home.”

Terry said she needed more closure.

“One of the things I really want is a Purple Heart,” Terry said after the ceremony in Tacoma, “Because it can be passed down to all the other Jameses in the family. I thought it would be something to keep the memory alive.”

Terry had asked Elmer Clark at the Tacoma VFW if it might be possible to procure a Purple Heart for James. Clark offered to try, but even if one could be created, it wouldn’t be the original.

The ceremony made the front page of The News Tribune newspaper the next day, where a number of people read about it, including a man by the name of Ray Mohn.

Ray Mohn and Terry have never met, and as far as they know, they aren’t related. But when Ray Mohn read the article, he remembered something he had been given by a neighbor. Last fall, Mohn’s neighbor, who has since passed away, presented him with a Purple Heart she had found while moving some old belongings.

When they are created, Purple Hearts are imprinted with the owner’s name. This particular Purple Heart bore the name of one James Chester Mohn.

Ray Mohn said his neighbor gave it to him thinking he and James might be related, but after calling several VFW chapters he was no closer to finding the owner — until he saw the owner’s name printed across the top of the News Tribune.

“I was amazed. I really was,” Ray said.

Ray Mohn contacted the VFW post in Tacoma, which then orchestrated a plan to return the medal to Terry in Fairbanks, where she has lived for more than 50 years.

On Saturday, 70 years after James’ death and one month after his return, the long-lost Purple Heart made its way home. Col. Mark Freitag, the Deputy Commander of U.S. Army Alaska presented Terry with the medal at VFW 3629 in Fairbanks.

“It made me feel like I have a sense of happiness,” Terry said, “a sense of happiness I haven’t had in a long time.”

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