UPDATE: It's a moment decades in the making. A Purple Heart is back with the family of a North Georgia man who was killed in World War II. Derrell Fuller's family was presented the Purple Heart Thursday by the man who found it in an abandoned storage unit.
The family knew there was a Purple Heart issued but didn't know its location. In a story, you saw First on 3, Channel 3's Kate Smith was there for the sweet reunion.
Derrell's nephew Wayne Fuller drove 12 hours and 800 miles from Arkansas to Ringgold to get the Purple Heart back. He said it was worth every mile.
Found inside an abandoned Ringgold storage unit is a piece of one family's history. After 70 years a Purple Heart is now back in the Fuller Family. “It is going in a shadow box inside my house with a letter from the President, display it next to my father's stuff,” said Wayne Fuller.
Ringgold resident, Paul Lee, said he found the Purple Heart and listed it for sale online. Channel 3 was contacted about the advertisement and reached out to Lee about the posting. Purple Hearts Reunited saw Channel 3's story and worked quickly to locate Wayne Fuller and reunite him with his uncle's medal. “This one at first thought may have been a replica. It is not. It was verified by the Purple Hearts Reunited for me.”
Fuller provided official documentation and pictures to prove the medal was awarded to his uncle, Private First Class Derrell Fuller, who died serving in World War II. “Just need to wipe up some tears. I am just so excited.”
Derrell was one of five brothers to serve. The North Georgia native was the only one not to return home. “Those young boys went over there and fought and died. It sends goose bumps down my spine I do not know what to say.”
Fuller said reclaiming the heirloom on behalf of his uncle means the world. “Very emotional. I am shaking.” A medal that represents the homecoming his uncle never got. “Basically this got abandoned. He died for this country.”
Wayne Fuller said as soon as he returns home to Arkansas he plans to visit his Father's gravesite and show him the Purple Heart.
It is not currently against the law to sell Purple Hearts. Congress is working on a law to change that.
UPDATE: An update to a story we first brought you earlier this month. A Purple Heart, found in an abandoned storage unit may soon be returned to its rightful owner. The medal was found in Ringgold, with the name Derrell O. Fuller engraved on it.
The owner of the medal saw our story and contacted Paul Lee, who was trying to sell it online. Lee originally told Channel 3 it was a replica medal. We have now learned that is not the case.
Officials with the national organization Purple Hearts Reunited went to work tracking down the Fuller family. They found the next of kin to be a nephew who lives in Arkansas. He's hoping to get the heart home soon.
“It has been an emotional roller coaster for the last two weeks,” said Wayne Fuller. Wayne Fuller knew somewhere there was a Purple Heart for his late uncle, Derrell O. Fuller. But he wasn't sure where it was. “We assumed it was with his son. He had one son who was born within a year of him being killed in Germany.”
His son died in 1995. The location of the Purple Heart was unknown. When Fuller received a phone call from a representative with Purple Hearts Reunited, he was in shock. “I just fell apart to be honest. I always wonder what happened to those medals and such.”
Private First Class Derrell O. Fuller was one of five brothers who served in World War Two. He was the only one who didn't return home. “I've got a long family history of people who served in the military. Traced to the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War had relatives who fought on both sides.”
The President of the United States issued a Purple Heart for his service to the country. An honor for the Fuller family. “It is just a part of our history that belongs in the family.”
Wayne Fuller sent documents to Paul Lee proving he was the rightful owner. But after multiple phone calls and emails, he hasn't heard back. Channel 3 stopped by Lee's business looking for answers. He tells us he has been traveling and plans to have his lawyers look over the documents.
“I mean I don’t want to give it to someone who isn’t the right person,” said Lee.
Fuller said he is confident the Purple Heart belongs to him and hopes Lee's word is true. He is ready for the medal to be proudly displayed at the Fuller family home. “I am just in shock, this medal was found. I hope Mr. Lee does the right thing and return it back to the family,” said Fuller.
Currently, it is not illegal to sell, buy or trade a Purple Heart. Congress is hoping to change that with a new bill to make it illegal. Currently it’s only illegal for the Medal of Valor to be bought or sold.
PREVIOUS STORY: A Bradley County man is searching for the owner of a lost World War II Purple Heart. The medal was found in an abandoned storage unit in Ringgold. It has the name Derrell O. Fuller engraved on it.
Sam Alawat was scrolling through the Facebook Market Place when he spotted an ad saying, "Purple Heart for Sale.” Channel 3 reached out to the man selling it, who tells us it is all a misunderstanding.
He never served in the United States Military but Sam Alawat appreciates the sacrifice a Purple Heart represents. “How much more pride can you have that your descendant gave his life for the United States of America. Our veterans don't get enough respect for all they do.”
So when he saw one online for sale, it broke his heart knowing a family is missing something so important. “It touched my heart. Somebody could be looking for the Purple Heart and have no idea where it is.”
He contacted the Whitfield Murray Historical Society for help. Austin Fariss is researching private first class Derrell O. Fuller hoping to learn more details about him. “Fuller is a very common last name in Murray County. We are hoping somebody will reach out to us,” said Fariss.
They believe he was a school teacher before he was drafted. He was killed in World War II and is buried in France. “Maybe he had a descendant, a son or grandson who is maybe looking for this Purple Heart.”
Channel 3 reached out to Paul Lee, the man selling the medal on Facebook. He said he found it by mistake. “We own a mini storage in Ringgold. Somebody left one of the units dirty, with trash in it. So we were cleaning it out and there it was. I was about to throw it away.”
But before tossing it he noticed there was no serial number. He called the VA who told him it's a collectible item and not an official Purple Heart medal. “People ask if I could find the owner. I could if I would. But it is a replica. It is a replica. You can replica everything now a days.”
It is illegal to buy, sell, barter, or manufacture any decorations or medals authorized by congress for the United States Armed Forces.
If you know the family the "replica” Purple Heart belongs to, contact Paul Lee at (706)-935-8508.
It happened just after 8 p.m. on Saturday.More
It happened just after 8 p.m. on Saturday.More