Posted at: 11/03/2013 12:17 AM
By: Steve Flamisch
CLIFTON PARK -- For decades, John Capper has carried in his wallet a time-worn photograph of his older brother.
Now, thanks to a woman in Utah and an Army National Guard captain in Vermont, he has his brother's Purple Heart, too.
The story begins during World War II when Brooklyn native Robert Capper enlisted in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of staff sergeant. He served as a tail gunner aboard a B-17, flying 35 missions over Europe before a German fighter shot down his plane over the Adriatic Sea on Oct. 20, 1944.
The entire crew survived the crash landing. Robert was injured, but he recovered and received the Purple Heart for his wounds. He returned home, started a career and a family, and lived to be 77. He died in 2001.
At some point, his Purple Heart ended up in Utah with the neighbor of a family friend. The neighbor, Fran Carnes, later read about Capt. Zachariah Fike, who donates his time and money to return Purple Hearts to veterans and their loved ones.
Carnes contacted Fike, who found a telephone number for Robert's younger brother, John, who is now 83 and living in Clifton Park. He made the call.
"He was kind of hesitant," Fike said. "He thought perhaps it was a scam, but over the course of a few phone calls, I was able to earn his trust and convince him that this was real, and he decided that he wanted to have a ceremony to honor his brother."
American Legion Post #1450, 270 Grooms Rd., hosted the ceremony Saturday night. Active duty service members and veterans attended.
They watched as Fike, standing beside an easel, pulled back a white cover to reveal a frame containing Robert's Purple Heart, medals, wings, and dog tags, along with a folded American flag and an enlarged copy of the photo John Capper has carried since the war.
John, overwhelmed with emotion, said he wishes their parents were alive to see it.
"This would have been such a great thing for them," he said. "And I hope there's a Heaven, and they're looking down and seeing it."
John, whose father served in World War I, said he will donate the framed Purple Heart to the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs.
Then, Andrew Komonchak, the executive director of the Purple Heart Hall of Honor, presented John with another gift: a Purple Heart commemorative coin. John placed the coin in his pocket, alongside the wallet that still contains Robert's photo.
"I'm so proud of my brother," he said.
Fike -- who received a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in Afghanistan -- has returned 62 Purple Hearts to veterans or their loved ones since 2012, and he is currently working on more than 150 others. To learn more about his non-profit organization, visit purpleheartsreunited.org.
The Whimsical Pig, in Watertown, donated the framing for Robert's Purple Heart and many others returned by Fike. They are online at thewhimsicalpig.net.