The McClure family of West Chester, Pennsylvania, is not quite sure how it went missing, but thanks to the organization Purple Hearts Reunited, they have a precious World War I memento back in their possession: the "Lady Columbia Wound Certificate" earned by Army 2nd Lt. Donald Armstrong McClure.
"It was a proud moment" for his grandfather's memory and for the family to be presented with the lithograph print featuring Columbia, the female symbol of the nation, with sword extended to touch the shoulder of a kneeling soldier as though dubbing a knight, Marc McClure, grandson of Donald, told Military.com.
The certificate was given to U.S. troops wounded in World War I in honor of their sacrifice. The Purple Heart, originally established by Gen. George Washington as a "Badge of Merit," was not officially designated until 1932.
Recipients of the wound certificate then became eligible for the Purple Heart. Marc McClure said he has his grandfather's Purple Heart, but the disappearance of the wound certificate was "a family mystery."
"There's no telling where it happened or when it happened," he said in a phone interview Friday.
McClure said he was even unaware that such an award as the wound certificate existed until his grandfather's was presented to the family Thursday night by Jessica Jaggars, operations director for the Vermont-based non-profit Purple Hearts Reunited.
"When servicemen and women are wounded or sacrifice their life at times of war, our country awards them or their family with a prestigious award in the form of the Purple Heart," the organization says in its literature. "As time passes, certain circumstances can lead to these medals being misplaced, lost or even stolen."
"They're gone now, but we can't do enough to honor the memories" of the 'doughboys' of what was then called the Great War, said Chris Isleib, director of public affairs for the World War One Centennial Commission.
McClure's experiences on the battlefield "affected the rest of his life, and affects his family to this day," Isleib said.
Eggars, a captain in the Vermont National Guard, said "it's fulfilling, it's rewarding, and it's very humbling" to participate in the return of Purple Hearts and wounded certificates.
Many of these lost mementos are found by Purple Hearts Reunited volunteers on EBay, which was the case with McClure's certificate, she said.
Marc McClure, a former Army captain, said the family recently discovered letters written from the front in France by his grandfather. The letters were written in pencil, he said, and much of the script has faded, but one they could make out told of 2nd Lt. McClure's ride back from the battlefield shortly after he was wounded.
His left femur had been shattered by shell fragments, and he asked the ambulance driver to go slow to avoid jarring that caused him pain. The ambulance driver said there were two choices -- we can go fast to get out from under the enemy shells that were still falling in the area, or we can go slow and risk getting hit.
In his letter, 2nd Lt. McClure wrote that he told the driver to "Go like hell."
The records show that Donald Armstrong McClure was born in 1896 in Danville, Pennsylvania, and registered for service in June 1917 while a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He served with Troop 1 of the Pennsylvania Cavalry and in May 1918 was sent to France with the American Expeditionary Forces.
In July 1918, he saw action at the second Battle of the Marne, and on Nov. 11, 1918 -- the day the war ended -- he was wounded by shell fragments on the Alsace-Lorraine front.
In December 1918, he was sent back to the U.S. to recover at General Hospital 24 in Pittsburgh and in February 2019 he was honorably discharged from the hospital.
McClure married that same year and had a career in sales and insurance, his grandson said. He died in 1965.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com.