WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW)-- It was a moment that Thomas Rick won’t soon forget, holding in his hands the Purple Heart award that was awarded to his uncle after dying on the battleground in Italy during World War II. In fact, it was a moment that just a month ago, Thomas didn’t know would happen.
An envelope was received by the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Division of Veterans Benefits; in it, a Purple Heart. The sender wanted to make sure that the award, given to those who are injured or killed in the line of duty, was delivered to the family of whom it belonged.
The sender left a brief note, with little information about who the award belonged to: George J. Rick. Donald Placidi Jr. and his team got to work.
“All we knew is that he was from Wisconsin, and that he served in the Army,” said Placidi, an administrator with the Division of Veterans Benefits.
Through research, the team was able to find Rick’s service number, and determined that he was from Marathon County. The next task, finding a family member to accept the award on Rick’s behalf.
“One of our staff members took the lead and contacted the Army, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the Marathon County Veterans Service Office, the Marathon County Historical Society, national archives and other organizations,” said Placidi.
The research done by those organizations, along with a story that aired on NewsChannel 7 in late May, Placidi’s team was able to connect with Thomas Rick.
Thomas, who served in the Marines during Vietnam, understands the significance of the award.
“It’s quite an honor. I myself was in the military and know what it means to receive a Purple Heart,” said Rick.
While he admits he didn’t know much about his uncle other than the little information his father shared with him before he passed, Thomas couldn’t be more proud of his uncle George.
“I’m very grateful for this day, and to receive this Purple Heart for my uncle.”
Placidi said its days like this that make his job so great.
“It feels really good, just seeing Mr. Rick’s reaction today. It just shows how grateful he is, and this is something we want to be able to do. Be here to support our veterans.”