If it was me and it was a relative of mine, I'd really want it. This man died for our country. —Sally Jarrett
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Sally Jarrett had never met Waldo R. Williamson, a U.S. Navy veteran who died sometime in 1945 somewhere in or around the Philippine Islands.
But the die-hard collector and auction enthusiast is desperately looking for Williamson's heirs.
"I bought a box that was full of cuff links and things like that," recalled Jarrett, a West Virginia native who returned to Charleston in 2006 after living more than 40 years in Florida.
"I was going through one of these boxes and I found a Purple Heart," she said.
Dating back to 1917 and still issued to soldiers today, the Purple Heart is a medal awarded to any U.S. military member who is wounded or killed in action. The Purple Heart that Jarrett found was inscribed on the back to Waldo R. Williamson, a quartermaster in the U.S. Navy.
Jarrett had no idea who Williamson was, or if he had any living heirs. It's been years since she bought the box. Since she's a pretty big collector, she can't exactly remember where she purchased the box. But knowing something about genealogy, she got on the Internet and tried to track down the veteran.
What she found was precious little. Jarrett found records that seemed to confirm Waldo Williamson had been in the U.S. Navy. Initially listed as Missing in Action, his status was apparently upgraded to Killed in Action late in 1945. Williamson appears to be buried in a graveyard in the Philippine Islands.
The Philippines were the site of several major U.S. military bases in the years leading up to World War II. Japanese troops began their conquest of the islands on Dec. 8, 1941, a day after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
Japanese soldiers finally captured the islands after nearly six months of fighting, taking thousands of prisoners. U.S. commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur abandoned the islands, famously vowing to return.
MacArthur and his troops did return to retake the Philippines in October 1944. But Japanese holdouts on the island continued to fight U.S. troops up until Japan surrendered in August 1945.
However, out of contact with the Japanese high command or simply refusing to give up, some soldiers continued to clash with Americans and native Filipinos for months or even years after the war. Hiroo Onada, the last surviving Japanese holdout in the Philippines, did not surrender until 1974, saying he didn't know the war was over.
Onada died last year in Japan at the age of 91.
From what records she could find, Jarrett believes Williamson was from Lincoln County.
But she doesn't know how he died. He might have been killed as part of a shore party helping secure the island, or he might have come across a Japanese straggler while sightseeing on a part of the island thought to be free of the enemy.
Jarrett said it's important to her to try to find Williamson's rightful heirs so she can give them his Purple Heart.
"If it was me and it was a relative of mine, I'd really want it," she said. "This man died for our country."
Jarrett said anyone who thinks they may know Williamson or members of his family may send her an email at [email protected]
Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com