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Effort underway to return lost military medals, other memorabilia to veterans and their families

(From center-left) A Purple Heart, Silver Star, American Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal, WWII Occupation Medal with "Germany" clasp, European/African/and Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, and a Good Conduct Medal, lie on a table. (Justin Connaher/U.S. Air Force)

It’s not uncommon for treasured military service honors — even Bronze Stars — to be deposited in bank safe boxes, only to be forgotten as generations pass, Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity said.

As a retired Army Reserve Colonel, Garrity has made it her new mission to reunite those keepsakes with the veterans and family members who lost them.

“Returning military decorations and memorabilia is my favorite part of being treasurer — and absolutely the most rewarding,” Garrity said Thursday.

It sometimes takes serious “detective work” for her staff — but more than 225 decorations have been returned to veterans or their surviving relatives, including a medal that was delivered back to a Battle of the Bulge veteran now living in a southern state, she said.

In all, approximately 500 pieces of memorabilia are in the Treasury department’s possession and “each of them tell a special story,” she added.

Items left dormant for at least three years in bank safe deposit boxes end up being forwarded to the Treasury department, which stores them in a vault until they can be returned.

Garrity and state Sen. Patrick Stefano gathered outside Somerset County’s Courthouse on Thursday to honor Pennsylvania’s estimated 800,000 veterans, while also drawing attention to Garrity’s effort to reunite items with soldiers.

“It’s one small way we can show our gratitude to these veterans and their families,” Garrity said.

To search for lost military items, the public can log on to the Treasury department’s website and search its database at www.patreasury.gov/unclaimed-property/medals.

“We have an obligation to all veterans, to honor their service and contributions in times of peace and in war,” said Stefano, who chairs the state Senate’s Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committee.

This week, the Senate advanced a bill he sponsored, SB 849, that would amend the Veterans Preference Law to enable veterans disabled prior to completing their initial terms of service to receive the same “preference” for state careers.

“As it is now … they are blocked from receiving the career preference they earned,” Stefano said. “I am thankful that my colleagues in the Senate voted to address this injustice, and I look forward to the bill quickly moving through the remainder of the legislative process so it can start helping the men and women who agreed to serve our great country.”

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