‘Puzzle piece’ delivered: Carolina Forest woman receives uncle’s once-lost Purple Heart

Since her father passed away six years ago, Laurie DiLorenzo’s made it her mission to learn as much as she can about his side of the family.

On Saturday, the Carolina Forest resident received a tangible memento that tells part of the story when her uncle’s once-lost Purple Heart was hand delivered to her in a frame.

Purple Hearts Reunited tracked down DiLorenzo through ancestry.com after receiving the Purple Heart from someone who found it at a flea market in Florida, and the non-profit organization brought it to her Myrtle Beach home this weekend.

“This is just one of the puzzle pieces that now fits in to everything I’ve been able to find out about him and his family,” said DiLorenzo, a New Jersey native who is retired in Myrtle Beach after serving 26 years in New York as a middle school teacher.

Carolina Forest resident Laurie DiLorenzo shows off the framed Purple Heart her uncle was awarded after receiving it from Purple Hearts United on Saturday. David Wetzel dwetzel@thesunnews.com

DiLorenzo said her father, Scott Webb, didn’t speak much about his side of the family, which she described as segmented and broken up. Webb was nine years younger than his brother, Frank Webb Jr., who enlisted in the Army in 1940 as an 18-year-old and was killed during World War II in the Battle of the Bulge in 1945 in Jenneville, Belgium at age 22.

“My dad’s last memory was him leaving, being deployed, my dad listening to them say goodbye to the family,” DiLorenzo said. “That was the last he ever heard of him.”

Sitting in her living room with her mother, Margaret Webb, husband Joe DiLorenzo and granddaughter Lillian DiLorenzo, Laurie DiLorenzo shared much of what’s she’s learned about her father and his family with Jessica Jaggars, a Conway native who is now Purple Hearts United’s Director of Operations and a member of the Vermont Army National Guard.

“It was a good reason to come home,” said Jaggars, who was making her last stop through North Carolina and South Carolina to deliver six Purple Hearts and one bronze star.

Laurie DiLorenzo said she was happily surprised when Jaggars presented her with the Purple Heart in a frame that included his picture, a certificate and his name engraved on the back. She had expected to simply receive it in a box.

“It’s amazing that in this day and age they can track us down. … Twenty years ago that wouldn’t have happened,” Laurie DiLorenzo said. “Now this has allowed us to do this so many years later and make a family connection that I would have never made before. We assumed that he had it because he died in battle, but the idea that it was lost [there] wasn’t even a notion that we would be able to track this down and find this. It was just not even a consideration.”

Frank Webb Jr. was a sergeant assigned to the 87th Infantry Division when he died in the Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive. He is one of an estimated 1.8 million Purple Heart recipients in the United States’ history, according to Purple Hearts United.

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Sgt. Frank Webb Jr. Courtesy of Purple Hearts United

“I think it’s terrific because what we’re doing is we’re keeping the memories alive of these people who have sacrificed so much,” Joe DiLorenzo said. “World War II veterans are aging out. Unfortunately so many of them have passed. Things like this organization to recognize them for their sacrifices keeps their memory alive, keeps their sacrifices alive.

“And I think that’s terribly important for all us to remember and for our grandchildren to learn.”

Jaggars said the story of Webb Jr.’s Purple Heart being found at a flea market and later returned is one of many unique paths she’s seen the awards take.

“You name it, we’ve heard it,” she said.

As fate would have it, Jaggars revealed to Laurie DiLorenzo that the person who found the Purple Heart had also been a teacher.

“That doesn’t shock me. Teachers do that. They find things that they can bring into the classroom and use as teaching tools, so I’m sure when she found that she was very excited,” Laurie DiLorenzo said, appreciating the fact it wasn’t just sitting in a drawer someplace.

Joe DiLorenzo found the whole scenario surprising.

“It does seem a little odd,” he said of the award having been sitting at flea market. “I think the crazier part is it made its way back to us.”

Laurie DiLorenzo said the family’s got some idea of where to display the framed Purple Heart, but its next destination is not entirely nailed down. One way or another, she plans to put it in a “place of honor.”

Then she’ll get back to work.

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Joe DiLorenzo, center, speaks to Purple Hearts United’s Jessica Jaggars, right, who presented his wife with her uncle’s once-lost Purple Heart on Saturday afternoon. David Wetzel dwetzel@thesunnews.com

“This has become my part-time job since I’ve been retired,” DiLorenzo said of researching her father’s side of the family while noting her mother’s is an “open book.” “It’s interesting. I like the research aspect about it. I like finding out about my family. There’s been some good surprises and I’ve met some family members I didn’t know I had on my father’s side.”

Prior to the framed Purple Heart being revealed, Lillian DiLorenzo, who lives in Maine and is in town visiting her grandparents, showed off a hand-crafted Purple Heart replica she made. Turns out, the youngster’s rendition looked pretty darn close to the actual award.

That was just one of the family’s cherished moments of Saturday’s family affair that served as the latest piece of the puzzle Laurie DiLorenzo plans to share with other relatives.

“This kind of brings it all home to me now,” she said.