TOPEKA, Kan. – When Mikell Burr decided to use her long Labor Day weekend to catch up on some home improvement projects, she didn’t know what she might find in the loft above her garage.
She hadn’t given the space much attention since she moved into the house a couple years ago, so some serious cleaning was in order.
“It was a lot of dirt and boxes and God knows what, so I went up there with a mask and just started throwing things out,” Burr said.
That’s when she stumbled upon a box she didn’t recognize.
“I opened it up, and it was a Bronze Star,” she said. “I hollered to my father, and he came running in. He looked at it and said, ‘Well, see if there’s anything else in there.’ ”
So she did.
Burr found another Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a service medal and a veteran’s dog tags, along with newspaper clippings about Topeka, Kansas, residents who had served in World War II and a Western Union news release with some photo negatives.
“It was an honor to find that,” Burr said. “To receive a purple heart means you had to be wounded in war, so that was a little chilling — I got to touch a Purple Heart and see it in person.”
Both of Burr’s grandfathers fought in WWII, so finding those tokens was a special moment for her.
After a quick Google search of the name on the dog tags and medals, Burr discovered their rightful owner still lived in Topeka and had moved to the city’s Thornton Place retirement community several years ago.
'Gee whiz. You made my day.'
Burr was excited to return the items. She bought a new wooden box to put the medals and newspaper clippings in. And on Friday, she took them to Thornton Place, where she met Crosby “Bing” Powell.
Powell, who turns 97 in a couple weeks, served in Africa and Italy during WWII. He was in the 168th Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division, which Burr learned was the same infantry division as one of her grandfathers.
While serving in the war, Powell developed trench foot. He said he spent about three months confined to a bed in a hospital tent overseas.
“I had to learn to walk all over again,” Powell said.
When Burr arrived at Powell’s door Friday, he welcomed her into his apartment as his favorite radio program, the “Lawrence Welk Show,” played in the background.
“Oh gosh,” Powell said when Burr showed him the box of artifacts. “Where did you find those?”
Burr explained the situation and pointed to the different items she had found. Their conversation quickly turned to the house in which the box of mementos had been stored. After he returned from war, Powell bought that house from the man who built it.
“I hated to give that house up,” Powell said.
“I’m taking very good care of it,” Burr assured him.
Powell showed Burr his retired uniform, replacement medals hanging in a shadow box on the wall, an engraved sword he was given upon retirement, a Quilt of Valor he received last year and photos of his late wife, who they speculated may have stowed the box Burr found.
“There’s stuff I don’t even remember (in here),” Powell said.
“You might take a trip down memory lane,” Burr said.
“I sure will,” he replied.
“I sure appreciate what you’ve done here,” Powell added. “Gee whiz. You made my day.”
Follow reporter India Yarborough on Twitter: @iayarbor
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This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Topeka, Kansas, woman finds WWII medals in house, returns them to vet