An East Texas family celebrating an act of kindness. Tuesday, a Purple Heart lost more than 70 years, was returned to them. Robert Bates was killed when the USS Arizona was destroyed in Pearl Harbor. CBS 19's Amanda Roberson was at Veterans Plaza in Tyler as a California man met with the Bates family from Brownsboro.
"When the Purple Heart was found in Bakersfield we were shocked," explained Mark Bates. He and his sister Kris Wilson of Brownsboro were surrounded by family and Purple Heart veterans as they received their uncle's Purple Heart from so many years ago. "I was, I was shocked because I knew he had died on the Arizona but we wasn't sure because my father never really spoke of the war."
The medal was found March 5 by a man who found it among some trash on the side of a Bakersfield, California road. After giving the medal to the local VFW, they turned to Ken Hooper for help.
"It's the end of a long journey," Hooper said. "It was a very intense month of March, starting this March 5th and ending it today in Tyler, TX."
Hooper is a history teacher and research buff at the local high school. He traced back who the medal belongs to through genealogy web sites and military sources.
Hooper said his students took a big interest in this project too. "I will have a good story to tell my students. They want to know. It's spring break back in California and they want to know how this is going to end. They're excited about it. They got in to it too and they realize it was important topic, important event for them."
An important event for the bates family too. "We were just overjoyed to be able to get the medal and keep it inside the family," Bates said.
After more than 70 years, the Purple Heart and donated custom shadow box are finally in the right hands. "My sister and I talked, I think I'm going to pass it down to my oldest son to keep it inside the family with a male member," added Bates.
Keeping Robert Bates legacy alive.
Bates served as a pharmacist aboard the doomed battleship Arizona when it was sunk. He'd been enlisted in the U.S. Navy less than three months, and like hundreds of his fellow crewmen, his body was never recovered.