Siblings Carol Schultz and Roger Rudy were young when they lost their brother, Private Harry J. Rudy, in World War II. Neither of them remember him much — Roger was still in diapers — but they cherish his memory and celebrate his bravery every chance they get, even when that chance is over 60 years later.
On April 1, Purple Hearts Reunited is presenting Rudy with his brother’s Purple Heart. Harry Rudy, of the 337th Infantry Regiment, 85th Infantry Division, was awarded the medal after being killed in action on Sept. 19, 1944, off the shores of Florence, Italy.
The medal was originally given to the family, but over the years was lost. Roger Rudy said he is overjoyed to have it returned.
“It’s hard to describe it with words, it’s wonderful,” he said. “That’s a very special medal, and it’s important to make sure it gets back to the family.”
Rudy said he’ll place the medal with the rest of his brother’s belongings — a cigarette case and a rosary — in a display case in his basement along with other family members’ military items.
Roger Rudy is one of 12 children. Four of his brothers served in the Army, and a fifth later joined the Navy. Harry Rudy is the only one who didn’t return.
Rudy and Schultz invited the remaining four siblings to attend the April 1 ceremony. Three of the siblings are from California. Rudy’s three children will be attending and many more children and grandchildren were invited.
“Being a close family, we want them to know of (Harry),” Schultz said. “This is just going to bring it all back, open the doors again. It’s kind of full closure now.”
The Chippewa Falls Patriotic Council held a memorial ceremony for Harry Rudy on Veteran’s Day in 2005 at the Prairie View Cemetery in Lake Hallie. Roger Rudy said he visits the memorial, which is with their parents’, at least once a year.
His brother’s original burial site is in the Florence American Cemetery in Florence, Italy, Plot A, Row 4.
Purple Hearts Reunited, a 501 ©(3) non profit, focuses on locating Purple Hearts around the globe and properly returning them to their families. Founder Zachariah Fike, a Vermont National Guard Army captain and Purple Heart recipient, said the organization has successfully returned over 200 medals in just three years, and rescued roughly 7,500.
Fike found Harry Rudy’s Purple Heart on a military collector’s online site.
Fike said he usually finds metals on military collectors’ websites, but as Purple Hearts Reunited becomes more known, people reach out to him when they recover a lost medal.
It is very important for Fike to see these medals returned to their rightful owners, and he volunteers his time to make sure that happens.
“We get an opportunity by these medal returns to tell their story, tell the world who Harry Rudy was, and that’s preserving his legacy,” Fike said. “He sacrificed his life, there’s no greater calling.”
Since Fike can’t travel the country himself, he’s set up his own “valor guard” of veterans in various states to present the military-style medal ceremony.
However, it’s a tall task for anyone to tackle, and he’s always looking for local businesses, organizations and veterans to help him out.
Wisconsin valor guards and Army veterans Michael Brennan and Jason Johns are presenting the Purple Heart to Rudy’s family.
Brennan, who lost his own son in Afghanistan eight years ago, said he’s honored to be a part of the ceremony. While he attended a handful in California with Fike, this is the first ceremony he’ll be doing in Wisconsin.
“It means a lot to me to do the right thing and return these in a respectful manner,” Brennan said. “The family members may not have been very old when their loved one passed, but these people are going through emotions some of them haven’t lived through, or maybe haven’t lived through in years. I know the price of sacrifice and what that feels like.”
The Purple Hearts Reunited ceremony will be held Friday, April 1 at American Legion Post 77, 12 E. Spring St., Chippewa Falls. The ceremony is open to the public.