- Associated Press - Friday, April 24, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Angela Allen knew her father had served two tours in Vietnam with the Army and was aware of the medals he earned there, including a Purple Heart. But she had never laid eyes on them until Friday, more than a decade after her father passed away.

Long forgotten in a safety deposit box and later found among thousands of unclaimed items held by the state of Arkansas, the medals that Ernest Johnson had earned for his service were returned to his daughter by the state auditor’s office.

“I just thought they were lost,” Allen said as she saw the items, which included a Bronze Star and her father’s dog tags from the war.

Johnson’s medals had been sitting in a safety deposit box at an east Arkansas bank until 2011, when they were transferred to the state auditor’s office - which handles unclaimed property and funds. The box - which also included coins Johnson had collected over the years - was among more than 3,000 sitting in the auditor’s vault.

The state auditor’s office administers unclaimed property, and safe deposit boxes are transferred to the state if they’re not claimed by the owner after at least five years. Many of the boxes contain valuable items like jewelry or antiques, and while it’s common to find military ribbons and medals among the holdings, the auditor’s office said it’s rare to come across items like the Purple Heart in its collection.

Allen said she had no idea her father even had a safety deposit box until she was contacted by the auditor’s office earlier this year. Lauren Brewer, a property controller for the auditor’s office, said she found the medals and other items in plastic bags as they were cataloguing and sorting through items in the vault.

“If someone bleeds for our country, their property should be handled even more carefully and with some dignity rather than to be dumped into a bag,” Brewer said.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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