World War II soldier's lost Purple Heart medal returned to family

Nearly 70 years after an Horry County soldier lost his life in World War II, his long lost Purple Heart medal was returned to his family Wednesday.

Odell Holden was just 23 years old in 1944, when he was killed in combat in France. The Purple Heart medal awarded to his family ended up being lost for years.

Then, Shane Gray of Conway was doing some yard work 15 years ago, sifting through the rubble of a burned out house next door to his home, when he spotted Holden's medal, still in its case, buried among the ashes.

Gray and his wife held on to the medal, hoping it would someday find its proper home.

A few weeks ago, Gray told a neighbor, who's a two-time Purple Heart recipient, about the medal he had found years before.

"I said, well, you know, we can talk to him and see what can happen, and I gave it to him and they done everything and got us here," said Gray.

The Myrtle Beach Purple Heart chapter contacted Capt. Zachariah Fike, a National Guard officer who founded an organization, Purple Hearts Reunited, that returns lost medals to their recipients or families.

Fike quickly tracked down Holden's nephew, Buddy Richardson of Myrtle Beach. Plans were made that led to a moment marked by hugs and tears, as Holden's medal came home to his family during an emotional presentation at the Hall of Heroes in Myrtle Beach.

"Thank you. I don't know what else to say, this is just such an honor," a tearful Richardson told Gray and his wife, Melissa.

For Capt. Fike, it seemed only natural to honor a man who gave his life for his country so long ago.

"Those veterans should be raised on a pedestal and all Americans should appreciate their sacrifice for us, so that we could be a free nation," Fike said.

Richardson, who's a Vietnam veteran, never knew his late uncle and doesn't even own a picture of him, but he knows what Odell Holden did, and that seems to be what really matters.

"He gave his life for service to this country and words can't explain the feeling for that to be one of my family members," Richardson said.

All of Odell Holden's siblings died years ago.

Richardson, the son of Holden's sister, Evelyn, is among Holden's few surviving relatives in this area.

Richardson says the Purple Heart, along with his uncle's other service medals, will eventually be put on public display in Horry County.