It was an emotional morning in Ringgold on Thursday, March 9, when a local business owner was able return a long-lost Purple Heart award he found in a storage unit to the family of a deceased military hero.
A few years ago, Budget Moving & Storage owner Paul Lee found a military Purple Heart award in one of his abandoned storage unit. Rather than tossing it out with some of the other unwanted property, Lee says he kept it at his office hoping to one day find the owner of the award, which is given to those wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. military.
"We actually found this in a unit that was abandoned two or three years ago, but I kept it on a shelf in my office," Lee said. "I was cleaning up that shelf recently and remembered we had it. Then I contacted the VA in Chattanooga, Tenn., and was told they usually just dispose of them."
All Lee had to go on was the name of the recipient, Derrell O. Fuller, which is inscribed on the back of the heart.
Earlier in the week, Lee was finally able to get in touch with Fuller's nephew, Wayne, who hot-footed it down to Ringgold to recoup the piece of his family's history.
"About three weeks ago I was contacted by a group called Purple Heart Reunited saying that they had found a Purple Heart with my uncle's name on it in an abandoned storage building," said Wayne Fuller. "They'd done some ancestry work and found out that I was the next of kin. Derrell was my father's brother. Tuesday, we hopped in the car from Arkansas, and here we are."
An emotional Fuller could only muster a "wow" when Lee handed him the box signifying his uncle's sacrifice.
"I'm thrilled," Fuller said. "I actually brought the letter my grandfather received when they reinterred him in France. This all is going to be put in a shadowbox with the Purple Heart and hung on my wall with my father's stuff."
Fuller says his uncle was one of five brothers, who all served in WWII at one time, and was the only one who didn't make it back home.
"He was killed in Germany about three weeks before the end of WWII, and then they reburied him along with 23,000 other men in France at one of the cemeteries. The family actually lived in a little town south of Ringgold, called Cisco in Murray County. They came out here from Oklahoma."
Decades after his passing, Fuller is ecstatic to have something so important back in his family's possession.
"I'm very, very thankful about this," he said. "I'm getting emotional, which is hard to believe after 70 years. My uncle only had one child who died in 1995. I'm thrilled to death and shaking honestly. It could have just been discarded or whatever, but I'm thankful he (Lee) pursued it and we were able to locate it."
Lee, who's owned his storage company on U.S. Highway 41 for years, says he's uncovered a lot of items in his time there, but never anything so meaningful.
"They say another man's junk is another man's treasure. ... Today he got a true treasure," Lee said. "I'm happy that it's back to the family."
Fuller says he's eager to get back home and display it for the rest of his family.
"Once I get home, I'm going to Hobby Lobby, and in a shadowbox it'll go."