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WOW: Alabamians find, return Purple Heart to WW2 hero’s family after 70 years of searching

purple heart

A Purple Heart, the military honor given to those who are wounded or killed while serving, was returned to a fallen soldier’s family this week over 70 years after it was awarded, thanks to an Alabama ROTC unit.

Foley High Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) member Justin Henson and his stepfather, Brandon Thompson, discovered an abandon storage unit in Elberta, Alabama, just before Christmas break last year.

They contacted the Foley High AFJROTC about the World War II-era items they found, including a Purple Heart, unfolded American flag, and letters from a Marine that was killed in Iwo Jima. Henson decided to find out who these items belonged to and turned the search into a community service project.

Cadet Henson discovered that the fallen Marine was Private Samuel Lewis Brock of Amarillo, Texas. Private Brock was killed in action on February 28, 1945 and was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Amarillo.

The Foley AFJROTC contacted the cemetery to locate Private Brock’s next of kin and found that Private Brock’s brother, Lonnie Brock, still lived in Amarillo. Lonnie, his wife Avis, and their three children flew out to Foley last week to be reunited with Private Brock’s possessions.

The Foley AFJROTC put on a repatriation ceremony to present Lonnie with his brother’s belongings. The ceremony included a flag folding with the traditional playing of Taps. The AFJROTC members displayed Private Brock’s Purple Heart medal and folded flag in a shadow box. A scrapbook of the photos and letters found was also given to the family. The local Marine Corps League also gave Lonnie Brock a jar of sand from Iwo Jima.

Brock said that his brother Sam was only 17 years old when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Their mother was against Sam enlisting, but she signed the parental consent anyway. Sam turned 18 in November of 1944 and was killed just three months later.

Brock was shocked that the items had been found and returned to his family.

“We had no idea that we’d ever see the mementos of my brother,” he said during the ceremony. “And we do appreciate you so much what this ROTC unit has done and commander of the unit has done and what the marines have done for us as I’m sure they would do for anybody. From the bottom of our hearts, the Brock family thanks you.”

Thanks to the Foley AFJROTC, the Brock family can finally have some closure for Private Samuel Brock and his sacrifice.

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