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Updated: Monday, 27 Aug 2012, 11:08 AM CDT
Published : Monday, 27 Aug 2012, 10:33 AM CDT
TEXAS CITY, Texas (AP) - For 25 years, Gerald Packard kept a pair of World War II medals and newspaper clippings safely tucked away in his gun safe.
One day, he figured, he'd find the rightful owner of the medals his son Max found in an alley behind a Texas City house.
Saturday, the medals awarded posthumously to U.S. Army Pvt. James "Jimmy" Dale came home.
His sister Mary Nelle Dale Parsons, who last saw her brother when he headed off to Fort Hood for basic training in September 1944, had all but given up hope of ever seeing the medals again.
But a picking expedition in the alley behind the Dale's old home on 10th Avenue North in 1987, a dedicated World War II history buff and his sons and a chance meeting outside Food King in Texas City six weeks ago reunited Parsons with her brother's Silver Star and Purple Heart.
Jimmy Dale was 20 when he enlisted. He had tried ever since he was a teenager to sign up for the U.S. Navy, but his father, James Sr., refused to sign a waiver to let his son join in the fight.
Then, when he was old enough, Dale was hampered by a heart condition and found it hard to get the medical release to enlist.
Eventually, a doctor gave Dale the clearance he sought; and at age 20, Dale joined the U.S. Army.
Parsons, 82, was 15 at the time and attended Central High School. Her older brother worked at the Texas City Sun.
When not working, Dale would go crabbing at the Texas City Dike or hunting with his buddies, Parsons said.
"He was my protector," Parsons said. "He was very compassionate and took me everywhere."
Well, almost everywhere.
"He and five guys in the neighborhood went out near Amburn pond and went hunting and skinny dipping," Parsons said. "He didn't let me go when they were skinny dipping."
Parsons said her brother, who was engaged to a Baytown girl when he enlisted, was always working.
He started delivering newspapers for The Texas City Sun and even had a job at Pan American Oil — now BP — where his father worked, but had just gotten a promotion as a building manager for the newspaper when he got his orders to report for duty.
"It was kind of a sad farewell," Parsons said. "I didn't know it was a forever farewell."
Army records show that Dale was an infantryman in the 7th Army's 63rd Infantry Division. He was in Company B of the 254th Infantry Regiment. He arrived in France in February 1945 as the German war machine was on its last legs.
His regiment fought in Germany, where soldiers were housed with residents of the community of Tiefenbach.
"I'm fine over here having a good time," Dale wrote in a letter to his grandmother on March 26, 1945. "We are living in the homes of Germany, enjoying their comforts. The German people have plenty of food and there is plenty of beer and wine too."
He ended the letter with a request for candy from his grandmother.
A week after writing that letter, Dale's unit was in a firefight.
Pinned down by fire
Pinned down by a German machine gun nest, Dale worked his way to within grenade-throwing distance and took out one of the nests, according to his Silver Star citation from the Army.
As he inched closer to a second gun nest, Dale was caught in crossfire and was gunned down.
On April 20, 1945, Dale's family received the telegram informing them of his death. It was his 21st birthday.
Germany surrendered in May, and the war was over less than a month after Dale was killed.
Not long after, in ceremonies at Fort Crockett in Galveston, Dale's medals were awarded posthumously to his mother.
The medals were stored away for decades and actually kept in a box in the attic of the Dale's house until Jimmy's mother died in 1984.
The family sold the house and during the cleanout of the house by the new owners, the box containing the medals was tossed in a pile or trash in the alley.
That's when Max Packard, 50, who was 23 at the time, came by and sifted through the collection of stuff outside. Like his father and older brother Joe, Max Packard is a picker.
A picker is someone who goes through old junk and collections in hopes of finding something valuable and sells it to make some money.
Finding the treasure
It wasn't until Max got home that his dad opened the box and found the medals, some newspaper clippings and the letter Dale wrote to his grandmother asking for more candy.
"I knew these belonged to someone's family who probably wanted them," Gerald Packard said.
Asked why he didn't try to sell the medals, Packard had only one word — "honor."
So, he posted fliers at the local grocery stores, signs in the lunchrooms of the local plants and even bought ads in the newspaper in hopes of finding Jimmy Dale's family.
By then, Parsons had moved from the area and was unaware that the medals had been found.
Packard said from time to time he'd try to find someone from the Dale family but had little luck.
Then, about six weeks ago, Packard ran into Max Montegut and his wife, Doreen, outside Food King.
As is their habit, the trio started talking about old times in Texas
City and military service.
That's when Packard brought up the medals. He asked if the couple knew of Jimmy Dale.
Doreen Montegut said she did a double take and asked again. Turns out, she and Parsons were longtime friends and, sure enough, she knew how to reach Jimmy Dale's sister.
A few days later, Packard made the emotional phone call to Parsons, who lives in Horseshoe Bay.
"I nearly died," Parsons said when Packard told her he had the medals. "It was heart wrenching. I was stuttering, stammering, crying and laughing."
Saturday, Parsons and her family met up with Packard and his sons and the Monteguts at Parson's son's nursery in Santa Fe so, finally, Dale's medals would go to where they belonged.
It was emotional for all involved.
Packard cried. Parsons cried. Her children and grandchildren, who never met Dale, cried.
Over a cake designed to look like Dale's Army uniform with the two medals pinned to the lapel, tears quickly gave way to old stories of Jimmy's letters home from the war front, his love of hunting and the fateful, some convinced divine intervention, that brought the medals back to his family.
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