Community helps in search for Purple Heart family

WINK News set off on a search to return a Purple Heart, and since our story first aired, we’ve seen a great number of people step forward, wanting to help.

The medal found itself in North Fort Myers eight years ago, stuffed in the cushions of a secondhand sofa. It belongs to Charles W. Crabbe, and a lot of you have emailed us to share information you thought might help find his family.

When Brenda Carlson reached out and said she wanted to get the word out about the Purple Heart in her possession, it was with the hope that someone would know the Crabbe family.

No one did, but that didn’t stop people from trying to help. The search for the medal’s rightful owner touched a lot of you.

“It’s been heartwarming because there’s so many people; genealogists reached out to me,” Carlson said.

Many reached out to WINK News through phone calls and emails after doing their own research.

“It’s amazing to us to watch this story kind of go viral in the way that it is, and have so many people care,” said Erin Faith Allen, who works for Purple Hearts Reunited.

She has seen a lot of lost Purple Hearts, but few communities quite like ours.

“I think in this day and age when there’s so much division in our communities, it’s really amazing to watch and witness people coming together to remember the life of one man.”

That’s exactly why Reporter Sydney Persing’s interview with Carlson found its way into a Facebook group for military families, where Mark Holmes in Fort Lauderdale read it.

“My father served in the same Bomb Group and the same Bomb Squadron as Charles, at the same time,” he said.

“It just struck me that maybe I was supposed to find this information and share it. There’s lots to find out if you know how to do the research and it’s kind of, it’s heartwarming to be able to track this stuff down.”

An obituary dated Oct. 13, 1945, reads that Crabbe, a technical sergeant and member of the B-24 Liberator, was killed in action. He grew up in Rockville Centre, New York, and died in Germany, but his Purple Heart somehow ended up in North Fort Myers.

The obituary notes Crabbe’s father and his aunt, Charles B. and Gladys, respectively, lived at 19 Park Place in Rockville Centre. We reached out to our CBS affiliate in New York, and they found the Crabbe’s home along with a memorial to TSgt Crabbe down the road. They also found an old neighbor who remembers Gladys fondly.

“She gave my sister and I nice little knick-knacks, and we used to go over there and talk with her and then she would come to my parents’ house and have dinner,” recalled Madelyn McCarson-Lizzo.

She also remembers hearing her parents talk about the Crabbe’s pain, that which comes with burying a child.

“They were devastated. They, they were lonely, sad, probably depressed as well.”

McCarson-Lizzo said Gladys moved to Florida after Charles died, where Gladys eventually died, where the Purple Heart now lives.

We asked Allen, who if you recall works for Purple Hearts Reunited, to find out whatever she could about Crabbe.

“Seven of the crew members were able to jump out of the plane and make it to the ground upon which they were captured by the Germans and they became POW. It seems that Charles was actually killed while in flight before he was able to eject from the plane,” she told us.

Her research concluded.

“It would seem that there isn’t next of kin.”

That isn’t the news we or you or Carlson wanted to hear, but there is good news: Allen’s team will take the Purple Heart and place it in a home of honor, likely a Rockville Centre museum where it will be proudly displayed.

“I never expected it to end like this,” Carlson said. “But I’m glad that it will finally have a place where people can pay tribute to his sacrifice.”

Reporter:Sydney Persing
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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