ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Tuesday morning at Soldier’s Memorial Museum, over a dozen veterans and a determined civilian staged for the final leg of a 14-year mission. They left on motorcycles and in cars to present a military family with one of the highest honors this country could give a serviceman or woman.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Donna Gregory looked out into the predawn darkness of Downtown St. Louis. “I’m overwhelmed.”
She thought over the years to the day she found a Purple Heart Medal in a box in an old Arnold, Missouri home. The medal was awarded to John Eddington, a World War II soldier originally from Leadwood, Missouri. She also remembered the love letter he wrote to his infant daughter while he was deployed. Eddington died four months after he wrote that letter, so the baby girl never met her father. Gregory and her friends followed every lead, trying to find the family.
“It was a lot of cold calls, calling every Eddington in southern Missouri,” she shook her head. “And then, not being able to tell me anything -- to say, ‘No. We’re not related,’ -- was heartbreaking.”
But, Facebook helped them finally find Eddington’s daughter in Carson City, Nevada.
“It was an unforgettable moment,” Gregory shook her head.
Fox 2’s Elliot Weiler helped supply some much-needed cash through the “Pay It Forward” program so Gregory could hand-deliver the medal. Gregory knew her late father. She felt driven to make sure Eddington’s daughter knew a little more about her dad.
“I feel like, in some ways, he was my grandfather. I’ve cherished every item I’ve had for so long.”
“What this lady is doing is mind-boggling,” Patriot Guard ride captain Bob Griffith was one of over a dozen veterans who would escort Gregory on her 1,800 mile journey.
“People just don’t understand the meaning of a Purple Heart,” he said. “Unless, you have lost a loved one in military service.”
“We need more people to realize what our soldiers do for us,” Gregory pointed out. “It is not only a proud moment for me. It is just.”