Man finds stranger’s 1945 Purple Heart

Brian Dean isn’t sure exactly how he came into possession of the Purple Heart awarded posthumously to a Marietta soldier killed in World War II, but he knows what he wants to do with it.

“I’d like to give it back to the relations,” said Dean, 75. “It’s theirs; it’s not mine.”

A native of England, Dean moved to Marietta more than 12 years ago to marry his wife, Nancy, who he met on the Internet while living on the Mediterranean island of Cypress. Nancy passed away in June, and he’s moving back to the United Kingdom next month.

While sorting through items in the attic a few weeks ago, he discovered a mailing tube addressed to Mr. Charles W. Suder, 759 Walnut Drive, Marietta. Inside was a certificate presenting a Purple Heart to Sgt. James T. Suder “for military merit and for wounds received in action resulting in his death December 25, 1944,” along with a letter about the award and a condolence notice bearing the signature of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“I was just looking in boxes and stuff like that,” Dean said. “I thought, ‘Uh oh, what’s going on here?'”

Dean gave the documents to his brother-in-law, who did not know why his sister would have had them.

Just a few days ago, “this turned up … in the last box we were going to sort out,” Dean said, holding out a case containing the Purple Heart itself.

The medal – given to service members killed or wounded in the line of duty – was sent to Suder’s family after the 21-year-old Marietta High School graduate died aboard a troop ship that was attacked and sunk on Christmas Day in 1944 as it traveled from England to Normandy, France, according to information local historian Scott Britton discovered in 1945 editions of The Marietta Times.

According to Times items on file at the Washington County Local History and Genealogy Library, Suder’s parents received a telegram on Jan. 15, 1945, notifying them he was missing in action. A couple of weeks later they were informed he had been aboard a ship that sank.

In a letter dated Jan. 31, 1945, the War Department informed the Suders that James had been awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.

Suder was not the only member of his family to serve in the military during World War II. According to an item Britton found from the July 7, 1944, edition of The Marietta Times, his brothers Charles and Henry were stationed in Panama and Persia (Iran), respectively, while his sister Margaret was a corporal in the Women’s Army Corps.

When Charles received a 20-day furlough, his first in three years, before transferring to another assignment, James and Margaret were also granted furloughs. Henry was unable to obtain one, and Britton noted the article makes reference to them planning to try to get together another time.