Joan Bilsback, the niece of World War II veteran Robert Swinson, will soon receive her uncle’s medal, courtesy of Capt. Zachariah Fike of Purple Heart reunited, a nonprofit dedicated to returning lost medals and other valuables to service men and women or their families.
The medal was found by a Fulton County resident and turned into the Old National Highway police precinct.
After several futile attempts to contact Swinson, the department contacted Fike for his assistance.
Fike then located Swinson’s niece, Bilsback, who resides in Summerville, S.C..
Bilsback said she first heard about her uncle’s medal through cousin of hers.
“Essentially, a woman who is a long-lost cousin, Elizabeth Jennet, she called to tell me that a man named Zacariah Fike was trying to reach me,” she said. “At first I was a bit skeptical.”
Bilsback was not sure if Fike’s nonprofit or his efforts to reunite her with her uncle’s medal was a part of a money-making scheme, but quickly realized it would cost her nothing and was legitimate.
Bilsback recounted what she knew about the medal ending up in Atlanta, although Swinson was from Sharps, Fla.
According to her, after Swinson died, his sister, Ruby, took his medal to Atlanta with her.
“She had a house in Powder Springs,” she said. “She died about four years ago and the property was divided. When the house was sold, all the contents in the house came with it.”
Swinson’s medal was mailed by the Fulton County Police Department on Jan. 16 to the attention of Fike.
Fike has since received the medal and plans to deliver it to Bilsback in the coming weeks.
“It is currently in my possession,” Fike said. “I have requested other medals, as well. Once I receive them, I will get them all professionally framed.”
On average, the entire process — including tracking down family members, getting the medals framed, transportation to and from the veteran or next of kin and lodging — costs roughly $1,200, Fike said.
“The money is not the issue,” he said. “This is just the right thing to do.”
Bilsback said she is grateful the medal will be returned to her and reflected fondly on her earliest memories of him.
“He led a very quiet life,” she said. “He was just simply a country boy that went off to war.”