Oklahoma Soldier's Purple Heart Returns Home 70 Years After His Death

Monday, November 11th 2013, 5:45 pm
By: News On 6

An Oklahoma soldier, who was killed nearly 70 years ago, was honored Monday, as his Purple Heart was returned home.

Clarence Merriott died in the English Channel in 1944, and his Purple Heart vanished over time.

We went to Stilwell, where dozens of Oklahoma's Own paid tribute to Merriott's memory and welcomed the sacred medal back home.

The box containing the Purple Heart awarded to Pfc. Clarence Merriott returned to Stilwell, escorted by Oklahoma veterans.

"Growing up, he was just a name," said Jess Merriott.

His second cousin was a member of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion in World War II. On June 19, 1944, the ship he was aboard hit a mine. Ninety soldiers died that day, including Clarence Merriott.

"I didn't know him, but as I got older and saw the sacrifice that my dad and others who had served had made it, made me really think about a cousin that had given his life for our country," Jess said.

Clarence Merriott was posthumously awarded this Purple Heart, but his family lost track of it over the years and it disappeared, until this past winter, when Matthew Carlson discovered it at a flea market in Glendale, Arizona.

"There's no way I could let it stay there," Carlson said.

Carlson paid $20 for the medal and began to search for its rightful owner. Inside the box was a letter that provided clues and a personal touch: a soldier asking his "Dearest Mother and Father" about their latest corn crop. Signed "Always your loving son," Merriott wrote it on April 21, 1944, just 59 days before he died.

When Carlson read the letter he knew he had to find the Merriott family.

"You just can't stand still and see something that's not right without doing something to correct it," Carlson said.

On Monday, Stilwell honored its veterans and brought back the memory of a soldier who died a generation ago.

Jess Merriott said the family is grateful that a determined stranger would do so much for a fellow soldier he never met.

"It's just amazing. I hope that I would have done the same thing," he said.

Carlson said this Veterans Day ceremony was a fitting end for the long journey traveled by Merriott's Purple Heart.

"He's finally got closure. He may not be home in body, but today, you felt his spirit in that auditorium. He's home," Carlson said.

The medal will be on permanent display in the Adair County Historical Association museum, in Stilwell.