TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - After weeks of searching, a Purple Heart found at a Goodwill store in Tucson is being returned to the family of the man who earned the honor.
The Purple Heart was awarded to Seaman Second Class Nick D’Amelio posthumously in the 1940s.
D’Amelio, who enlisted in the Navy and served in World War II, was considered lost at sea on Sept. 6, 1943. The destroyer on which he served was attacked off the coast of Guadalcanal a year earlier.
His Purple Heart showed up at the Goodwill last month and the store took to social media to find D’Amelio’s family.
Goodwill employees sorted through thousands of items before anything reached the storeroom floor and sometimes the best finds don’t reach the shelves.
“What is it?” is a common question among associates, according to Talon Mills. Following the advice of his now wife, Mills has worked for Goodwill more than a year. With that much experience, he can help the newer hires.
“He’s always asking me what stuff is as he’s rolling it out to the floor,” Mills said. "And I know what it is, so that’s kind of cool.”
Mills knew just what he had when he opened a faded box last month at the Goodwill Store and Donation Center on Houghton Road, south of Golf Links Road. It prompted more questions though.
“Did the recipient of the medal give it away?" he wondered about the Purple Heart. "Did their family (give it away), not knowing it was in the box?”
He gave the Purple Heart to a manager and the search began for its rightful owner.
“People give away amazing stuff," Mills said. "It just blows my mind what people give away.”
D’Amelio’s family didn’t even know the medal was missing.
“I heard the story and was like ‘awe how sad’ and then I realized it was me," said his niece Donna Laudonio.
Soon after she realized what had happened, Laudonio was comforted to hear some private investigators made the connection between her family and the Purple Heart. Senator Martha McSally’s office helped with verification and everyone met at the Goodwill where the medal was found.
“I’ve always heard stories about uncle Nick and he didn’t come home and he was lost," said Laudonio. "This is almost like my uncle Nick is coming home.”
Her family thanked everyone involved in returning the medal, including social media users who shared the story to help spread the word. Senator McSally presented Mills with a certificate of recognition for doing the right thing after he found the Purple Heart. Mills said seeing the look in Laudonio’s eyes when she received her uncle’s medal was reason enough to do what he did.
“You always have to be nice to people and I use that here at the store," he said. "You never know what someone’s going through, and it costs nothing to make people happy, right?”