The Purple Heart honors those who received the nation’s oldest military award. George Washington first presented the medal in 1782. At that time, it was the “Badge of Military Merit.”

The president or his representative award the Purple Heart to members of the U.S. armed forces who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy.

The medal is awarded posthumously to the next of kin of service members who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action.

While clearing out some items from her recently deceased father-in-law’s belongings, Lisa Abel of Hoke Bluff, Alabama, came across a Purple Heart. Puzzled by the medal, she immediately started researching.

Pvt. James Morgan’s Purple Heart

She turned to Facebook asking for any information on the mystery. Next, Abel contacted the Birmingham VA Health Care System and shared the few bits of information she could find on the Veteran.

“According to the label listed in the box, his name was Jimmy Morgan,” said Abel.

Previous owners stored the medal and various military ribbons in a chest.

Able’s attempts to use social media to try and locate family members in the area came to no avail.

Organizations that help find Purple Heart Veterans

The Birmingham public affairs team reached out to the following organizations to help locate Morgan’s family members: National Personnel Records Center, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Auxiliary and Purple Hearts Reunited.

Zachariah Fike heads up Purple Hearts Reunited (PHR). PHR is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to return Purple Hearts and other military awards that have become separated from the original recipients or their descendants.

The PHR staff and volunteers have returned more than 400 medals to the original recipients or to their families.

Fike and his team located one of Morgan’s family members. Morgan was an Army Veteran of World War II’s Pacific Theatre and a Purple Heart recipient. He was a lifelong resident of Gadsden, Alabama. His tombstone is at the top of this story.

Morgan did not have children, but Fike located one of his sister’s daughters. Pamagean Prochnow, and her husband Charles, live in Brownboro, Alabama.

Purple Heart now in library special collection

The Prochnows donated the Purple Heart to the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library Special Collections Department.

Heather Adkins, manager of the Special Collections Department, ensured the safekeeping of the medal.

“I believe the public library can guarantee the prolonged safety of the medal, as well as continue to cherish it as an item of historical value for Huntsville and its Veterans.”

The Birmingham VA Health Care System includes the Birmingham VA Medical Center and its outpatient clinics. Those clinics are in Bessemer, Birmingham, Childersburg, Gadsden, Guntersville, Huntsville, Jasper, Oxford and Sheffield. It provides care to more than 68,000 Veterans in northern and central Alabama each year. Information about the Birmingham VA Health Care System can be found at, or you can contact the Public Affairs Office at 205-558-4744.

Derrick Smith is a public affairs specialist for the Birmingham VA Health Care System

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Published on Oct. 12, 2020

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