Gold Star Families and the Return of a Purple Heart

  • Thu Oct 17th, 2019 7:49am
  • Life

It was almost a year ago that our community set out to raise funds, about $75,000, for a van for the Long Term Care residents as well as the VFW announcing that a committee had been formed to raise about $90,000 to bring a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument to Forks. I had my doubts that both groups could be successful, but a year later LTC residents are riding in a new van, able to attend community events and this past weekend a beautiful granite monument was dedicated and now stands at the Forks Transit Center.

Both fundraising groups received donations from humble Bake Sales, community members, businesses, and organizations, as well as grants from charitable foundations both local and elsewhere.

At the dedication, I was asked why no names on the monument? The monument is meant to honor all Gold Star Families. Any family that has lost a loved one while in service can visit our monument and feel that it honors them and theirs as well as our own, that our community has lost.

One of our own that was killed in action and is buried in the Philippines was Sebastian “George” Vogel.

Vogel had a difficult childhood, not really knowing his mother and an absentee father, he was raised by the Cochran family on the Bogachiel River. His adopted family members still remember the Gold Star that hung in their home on the Bogachiel after Vogels’ death on Nov. 27, 1944. Vogel left behind a wife and young son.

A few years ago one of Vogel’s nieces had contacted me trying to track down more information on her uncle’s life here on the West End. Loretta Morris was hoping to attend the dedication last weekend but was unable to at this time but next summer she will be coming to Forks.

She recently updated me with the following story about her uncle’s Purple Heart that has been missing since sometime after his death.

The Purple Heart Medal is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.

The following account is from Erin Westvang who helped get the Purple Heart back to Loretta.

“On May 19 of this year, my cousin Susan Garza was going through old boxes of stuff at her dad’s house in Everett. His name is John and he has early dementia. She found a Purple Heart in a box. She asked her dad about it, but he didn’t know where it came from, or who Sebastian Vogel was. Figuring it was a long shot, she posted it on Facebook.

I did a quick search and found him on a list of WWII Navy casualties. I also found him in a family tree on Ancestry. The tree belonged to Loretta Morris. I sent Loretta a message via Ancestry. She confirmed that the person named on the medal was her uncle ‘George’. I got her address and my cousin brought the medal over, and I mailed it to Loretta.

It was perplexing to my cousin how her dad ended up with it, as he didn’t even remember where the box of stuff had come from. About a week later, we were talking about the medal and how cool it was that we had found the family. I started telling Susan about everything I had found out about George, including his widow’s name and address. Her name was Marion, and in the Navy casualties list, it listed her address as 2422 Grand Ave., Everett, Wa. Susan looked surprised and said, “That was my grandparent’s house when I was a kid.”

We came to the conclusion that her grandparents must have purchased the house after Marion lived there, and Marion must have left the box at the house when she left. This is just an assumption on our part.”

Did Vogel’s widow forget the medal or was the pain just too much and did she just leave it behind?

Meeting the man behind the Gold Star Memorial Monument project was a great honor. Hershel “Woody” Williams is 96 years young and attends most of the dedication ceremonies. Woody is a Medal of Honor recipient, WWII, Iwo Jima.

As Williams said during the dedication the monument can’t take the pain away, but hopefully, it can be a place of love, respect, and healing.

Christi Baron

Editor, Forks Forum