John J. Capper Jr. was suspicious when he received a call from a stranger claiming to have the lost medals his brother had earned while flying 35 missions in Europe as a tail gunner in B-17 bombers.
“I thought it was a scam,” Capper said of the September call from Zachariah Fike of Georgia, Vt., founder of Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit organization that locates lost military medals and returns them to veterans or their families.
Capper will receive his brother Robert’s Purple Heart, dog tags and other medals during a ceremony Saturday at the American Legion Post in Clifton Park, north of Albany.
“I can’t believe this is happening after all these years,” said John Capper, an 83-year-old retired high school teacher and coach living in Clifton Park.
Robert Capper was on what would be his 35th and final mission when his Flying Fortress was shot down by German fighter planes in October 1944. The bomber crashed-landed in the Adriatic Sea, but Capper and the rest of the crew survived. They got into life rafts and were later rescued.
After the war, Capper moved to California and worked for the Singer Sewing Machine Co.
Soon after Capper died in San Diego on Veterans Day 2011, John J. Capper said his nephews offered to send him the medals, but never did. He figured they had decided to keep them.
The medals made their way to Fran Carnes, of Sandy, Utah, who received them from a neighbor whose mother had them when she lived in California, Fike said.
Carnes contacted Fike, a captain in Vermont’s Army National Guard and Purple Heart recipient for wounds suffered while serving in Afghanistan, who has overseen the return of more than 60 lost or stolen Purple Hearts since taking on the projects two years ago.
For Capper, the medals are a last link to a sibling he was very close to while growing up in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge section, despite a seven-year age difference.
“I’m really happy about it,” he said.
John Capper said he intends to donate to the medals to the New York State Military Museum in nearby Saratoga Springs.