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While digging through archives at Berger Health System in Circleville earlier this year, employee Shea McMahon ’09 stumbled upon something he never expected to find in an old plastic bin at a hospital—a Purple Heart.
The precious U.S. war medal, only bestowed upon those injured or killed in the line of duty, was tucked inside a small Bible.
Something inside McMahon—something he himself cannot entirely identify—made him question how the medal got inside that bin and to whom it belonged.
Thinking that the Bible and the medal were linked, even though there was no evidence of that other than their proximity, McMahon began making phone calls and even signed up for an account on Ancestry.com.
He got in touch with Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service in Columbus, because a small funeral card for a man named Albert “Russell” Richardson was tucked inside the Bible. Richardson died in 1987 at the age of 67.
After a little research, McMahon discovered that Richardson’s wife had passed away in 2002 and also had her funeral at Schoedinger. A helpful and empathetic Schoedinger employee passed McMahon’s information along to the only contact they had on file for the couple.
Eventually McMahon’s sleuthing led him to Ronald Richardson, one of Russell’s four children. Ronald called McMahon as soon as he heard about the Purple Heart—he knew it had belonged to his father.
“He remembered these really small, unimportant details [about the medal],” McMahon said about Ronald, who he met in late June at a restaurant near Ronald’s home in Westerville.
He remembered that the back of the medal could easily fall off. He remembered a ribbon attached to the medal. The only thing Ronald was unable to recall was how the Bible and the medal made their way to a hospital in Circleville. To his knowledge, neither of his parents had ever been to Berger Health System.
Ronald brought to the reunion a number of photos and other family heirlooms to show McMahon.
“He had a picture of his mom and dad on their wedding day,” McMahon said. “It was neat to watch him drum up these memories.”
McMahon said he was grateful that he got to return a beloved piece of family history to someone who genuinely appreciated it.
“It was definitely emotional to watch him think through things,” McMahon said.