California woman leads mission to reunite Purple Heart with family of late WWII veteran

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A California woman is on a mission to reunite a Purple Heart medal with the family of a late World War II veteran who passed away more than 50 years ago.

Clarence Vernie Hawksley served as a U.S. Army Captain for the 382nd Infantry Regiment, 96th Infantry Division from 1942-1946. Decades later, the Purple Heart awarded to him during his service is no longer in his family’s possession.

Bakersfield’s Karen Galyan is doing all she can to change that.

“It needs to go home,” she said of the Purple Heart, which is awarded to men and women who are wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. military.

Someone found the medal on the streets of Bakersfield earlier this month and turned it into the Portrait of a Warrior Gallery. Galyan immediately took the lead to get the medal back to its owner.

“A true hero,” Galyan said. “[The medal] needs to go to the family.”

Official documents obtained by Galyan show Hawksley was born in 1917 in Maine. During his service, he received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Having survived the war, he died in 1963 and is buried at Bridgeport Cemetery in Mono County.

Now the focus turns to find Hawksley’s living relatives. Records show his wife passed away several years ago. His daughter, Deborah Lee Hawksley, also a veteran, died in 2012 and was buried at the Bakersfield National Cemetery.

Galyan found contact information for someone with the last name Hawksley, but she didn’t hear back as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

A Gold Star mother, Galyan has endured the pain of losing her son LCpl David Cole Lang. Thursday would have been his 37th birthday. In honor of her son, Galyan said she will work as hard as she can to reunite this Purple Heart with its rightful owner.

“I cannot think of a better gift that Cole handed me for his birthday. Normally a Gold Star mom is curled up in bed for their hero’s birthday. My heart could not be fuller because a hero went home and this heart needs to go home,” Galyan said.

Anyone with information about living relatives is asked to reach out to Eytan Wallace or Karen Galyan on Facebook. To contact Wallace, click here; to contact Galyan, click here.

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