- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. (AP) - Mike Baggett’s cellphone displayed an unknown New York number. He considered ignoring it, but picked up. On the other end was a Capt. Fike, who asked whether Baggett had an uncle.

“I thought it was a scam,” the Lynwood Center man told the Kitsap Sun (https://bit.ly/1HE48sK ). “He said he had located lost medals from my uncle and wanted to return them to me. I was very suspicious. ‘What’s it going to cost me? How do I know these are his medals?’”

Zac Fike directed Baggett to his Purple Hearts Reunited website. One of the photos showed four medals, including a Purple Heart. Under the words “For Military Merit” was inscribed “Berlin E. Small.”

Uncle Berlin died in 1993. Also gone were Aunt Elsie, the couple’s lone child, Eddie, and Berlin’s four siblings, including Baggett’s mother, Pauline Small Baggett. Mike Baggett is his closest living relative.

Fike and his nonprofit foundation have returned medals and artifacts to more than 150 families. He picked up Pvt. Small’s Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars (for heroic or meritorious achievement) and a Good Conduct Medal on eBay in 2013 for $20.

All Fike wanted was a photo of Baggett’s uncle to frame with the medals. The display arrived Tuesday.

“Thankfully, I kept an open mind and listened to what he had to say,” Baggett said.

Uncle Berlin enlisted in the Army on March 10, 1941, and was assigned to Company H, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division. He was wounded in February 1944 and spent the rest of his life in California, working at a General Motors plant in Fremont. Baggett grew up nearby and saw him often.

“His whole life he was very bothered by his experience in the war,” Baggett, 62, said. “It was all he ever wanted to talk about.”

Baggett doesn’t know much about his uncle’s war experiences, only that he was badly hurt and needed a metal plate in his head. Now he’s interested in finding out.

“It’s very meaningful to me to get these medals back,” he said. “It makes me feel closer to my family - my departed family and my uncle in particular. It renews a lot of great feelings about what he did and how he gave so much of his life to support the country.”

The group Fundamentals of Genealogy helps Purple Hearts United track down family members. While finding Baggett, it discovered a relative in California he didn’t know existed. The two have talked and Baggett, a salesman, plans to get together and show her the medals on his next business trip.

Fike started Purple Hearts Reunited three years ago. The 17-year veteran would see discarded military items while shopping for antiques.

“It really broke my heart to see these items discarded, so I started to rescue them,” said Fike, a captain in the Vermont Army National Guard who earned a Purple Heart of his own in Afghanistan.

Fike has 300 to 400 medals he’s trying to reunite, and more and more people are sending them in.

“We just want to make sure every one of these medals gets home with the recipient, family or finds a place of honor in a museum somewhere,” Fike, 34, said. “In this case, it was a great opportunity to tell the world who Berlin Small was. Unfortunately, a lot of those guys from World War II are forgotten.”

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Information from: Kitsap Sun, https://www.kitsapsun.com/

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