Purple Heart of WWII airman returned to family 70 years after he disappeared

Staff writerSeptember 1, 2013 

The fate of Gladys Terry’s brother after his plane disappeared during World War II was unknown to the 91-year-old woman for 70 years.

And until Saturday, what happened to his Purple Heart was a mystery to her too.

The tale of the medal starts with a plane crash in Bhutan, and — with the help of a good Samaritan reader of The News Tribune — ends at Terry’s home in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Terry traveled to Tacoma in July for a memorial ceremony hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 91 in honor of her brother, Pfc. James C. Mohn, who was raised in Tacoma.

After years of searching for her brother, Terry recently learned the wreckage of his plane had been found in Bhutan, though experts were unable to determine what caused the crash.

The information gave Terry a great deal of closure, she said, but she still hoped to receive a medal for her brother’s sacrifice.

“One of the things I really want is a Purple Heart because it can be passed down to all the other Jameses in the family,” she said after the Tacoma ceremony. “I thought it would be something to keep the memory alive. Their parents will tell them about the wonderful experience of the memorial.”

Meanwhile, another mystery had been puzzling Ray Mohn.

The Summit-area man isn’t related to Terry or her brother, but last fall he acquired a Purple Heart with the name James C. Mohn and had been trying to find its owner ever since.

“It was just automatic that I had to try to figure out who it belonged to,” Mohn said recently. “I had to find out. Try to at least.”

How the medal ended up near Summit remains unclear.

A neighbor, who since has died, brought the Purple Heart to Mohn.

The neighbor said she found it while moving things around the house, and since Mohn shared a last name with the service member on the medal, she thought it might belong to his family.

A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Ray Mohn offered to try to find the rightful owner of the award. Calls to several veterans groups proved unsuccessful.

Then he read a front page News Tribune story about the ceremony for James Mohn and realized he’d found the right serviceman.

“I was amazed. I really was,” Ray Mohn said.

He called VFW Post 91, and a representative from the chapter presented the medal to Terry at a ceremony Saturday in Fairbanks. 

Terry had been told there was going to be another ceremony, this time in Fairbanks, to honor her brother. 

Getting the Purple Heart was a surprise.

“I was just overwhelmed,” she said Saturday. “It’s almost unbelievable.”

It took nearly 70 years for Terry’s brother to be welcomed home. Now the medal honoring him has found its way home, too.

“It made me feel like I have a sense of happiness,” Terry said, “a sense of happiness I haven’t had in a long time.”

Staff writer Weston Morrow of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner contributed to this report.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268



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