Home is where heart belongs
By RANDY GONZALES
Donna Gregory said anybody would do the same.
She just wasn't sure if she ever would see her quest fulfilled. But after 14 years of searching, in a few days Gregory will know a Purple Heart medal awarded 69 years ago will have its rightful home.
Gregory stopped Tuesday in Hays on her trek from St. Louis to Nevada to hand a Purple Heart and other mementos to the daughter of a U.S. Army infantryman who was killed while serving his country during World War II.
"Honestly, there were many times through the years where I wondered if I was crazy, believing I would find her," Gregory said at a stopover at the Hays VFW Hall. "When I did, I couldn't wait to have this day."
Gregory, accompanied by her sister Brenda Allen and friend, Monica Lightfoot, as well as a motorcycle escort, left St. Louis early Tuesday morning and stayed overnight in Colby. She plans to arrive in Dayton, Nev., on Friday, where she finally will meet the daughter of John Farrell Eddington, who was killed in Italy on June 27, 1944, at age 25. Among the survivors was his infant daughter he never met, 5-month-old Peggy Arlene.
"As I make my way to Nevada the next three days, I'll be thinking a lot about the last 14 years searching for her," Gregory said.
It all started innocently enough. Gregory was rummaging through some things in the house belonging to the grandparents of her ex-husband when she ran across the Purple Heart, still in its box, as well as other documents. On the back of the medal was the recipient's name.
And so the search began. Gregory was having little luck until she turned to social media for help. Piece by piece, the puzzle came together until she made the phone call earlier this summer and heard Peggy's voice on the other end.
"It was very emotional," Gregory said of that first conversation with Peggy, now 69. "I had been looking for her for so long. When I first heard her voice, and she said, 'This is Peggy,' I held back the tears because I didn't want to overwhelm her."
Now that she had found Eddington's daughter, Gregory's next step was to make the trip to Nevada and hand the Purple Heart and other items she found 14 years ago.
Along with the Purple Heart, there are assorted mementos Gregory will deliver. There is Eddington's junior high and high school diplomas; a playbill from his senior class play of 1938; his draft card; Western Union telegrams; letters from the War Department to his mother telling her he first was missing in action, and later another letter saying he had been killed in action; there is a letter from the battalion chaplain written to his mother after his death; there were 14 letters written to his mother, and one for his daughter shortly before he was killed.
The Purple Heart, still in its case, looks good as new.
"There's many letters, but the one thing that has everybody completely excited is the fact his Purple Heart is very much intact," Gregory said. "Everything is in pristine shape, and I'm going to be able to hand that over to a World War II vet in a matter of a few days, and he's going to present it to her."
There still is something unresolved, Gregory said. She doesn't know why the box was in the house. She can't find a link between Eddington and her ex-husband's family.
"Honestly, that's part of the mystery, and I'm OK with that," Gregory said.
There will be a private gathering Friday for Donna and Peggy. On Saturday, the Purple Heart will be presented in a formal ceremony. It will be where it belongs -- even though it took 69 years to get there.
Gregory insists she did what anybody would do.
"How can you be an American and not do what I've done?" she said. "This man died for me and this country."