A search for the owner of one the most prestigious US military medals following its discovery in a drawer of a Massachusetts home led searchers almost 5,000 km across the Atlantic to Co Donegal and unearthed a relative with the same name.
The Purple Heart medal, which is the oldest active military medal in the US, is awarded to those who were injured or died during active service and was found when a World War II military veteran’s home was being cleaned out in the city of Attleboro.
Searchers had little information to aid about the medal owner but found a death notice, an old address in the Boston suburb of Dorchester and the sailor’s name Hugh Farren carved into the back of the medal.
Following research by Ben Quelle, Attleboro’s director of veteran services, he discovered that 39-year-old Mr Farren served aboard the USS Liscome Bay, which sank in the Pacific on Thanksgiving Day in 1943. Mr Farren’s body was presumed dead as his body was lost at sea.
His surviving sister was presented with the Purple Heart, but somehow it ended up in the apartment of a firefighter who knew the fallen navy man.
Mr Quelle, also discovered a vital clue in his search for Mr Farren’s relatives when he realised that in 1962, the city of Boston named a pedestrian bridge in Dorchester after the military man.
So determined was Mr Quelle to find any surviving relatives of Mr Farren’s he put a public appeal, and luckily a person who had holidayed in Ireland recently heard the appeal and contacted him.
Mr Quelle received an email on Thursday and the person explained that while in Ireland recently they visited Farren’s Bar in Donegal’s Malin Head.
The visitor had chatted to a man named Hugh Farren, who recognised the tourist’s Boston accent and recounted how there was a footbridge in Boston named after his uncle who had the same name.
Mr Quelle and the Boston TV news channel, NewsCenter 5, made contact with the bar and spoke to another Hugh Farren, a barman who explained he was named after his grand uncle, who was awarded the Purple Heart.
He explained that his grand uncle left Ireland for Boston in late 1928. He also revealed that the family’s bar is located in their ancestral home.
Speaking to NewsCenter5 news Mr Farren’s nephew Hugh explained the family did not know his grand uncle had been awarded the prestigious medal and said: “The thought that a man who left here is still remembered and we have proof of the work that he did do when he did leave the island was something good, it means a lot for a lot of people. The Purple Heart is a big deal.”
He added to the TV station: “I did know he was a fireman, which was a big deal. I appreciate what Ben has done. It means a lot to all that Mr Quelle was out there looking for us – it’s very nice. Other than that it would still be sitting there (boxed away) and not appreciated. There is a lot of talk about it here now.”
Mr Quelle explained to Mr Farren during a video call, that his grand uncle’s navy job was as a water tender first class, which explained his links to being a fireman. He added: “This is the most gratifying thing I have ever done.”
Several other relations were also uncovered on Thursday, including two cousins who live in the US.