Woman reunites flea market Purple Heart with fallen sailor's family

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ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Woman reunites Purple Heart with sailor's family
Lori Stokes has the story of a woman who discovered a Purple Heart at a flea market.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Just days after Thanksgiving, one family has something extra to be thankful for because of an unlikely discovery at a Bay Area flea market.

For Tammie Diaz, the Capitol Flea market is a Sunday ritual, but one visit was like no other thanks to a little purple box.

"I opened it up, and I couldn't believe my eyes," she said.

She stared in shock at the Purple Heart - the medal awarded to those wounded in battle or those who pay the ultimate price.

"I knew in a minute, in a second, that this has to be returned to somebody, to a family," Diaz said.

It had the name Shirley R. Macon on it.

Diaz bought it for $10 and began the search.

"I knew I had to get rid of it as quickly as I could, so I immediately went on the Internet of course," Diaz said.

The turning point came early in the morning, not even 24 hours after finding the medal at the flea market, when Diaz found a name on a genealogy website for a family historian in Alabama.

"I was thrilled," Macon Family Historian Teresa Cunningham said. "In fact, it was difficult for me to continue speaking with her for awhile because I got pretty emotional."

Cunningham described her uncle.

"We called him Rudolph, his name was Shirley Rudolph," she said.

He was a U.S. Navy gunner's mate in World War II, and he survived the attack on Pearl Harbor before winding up in San Francisco, where he met and married his wife and then re-deployed to the Philippines.

"And it's said that that was the largest battle, the greatest battle, the toughest battle," Cunningham said.

In the battle off Samar, the USS Samuel B. Roberts was outgunned and outnumbered, but made a daring maneuver that helped take down a Japanese ship.

Macon manned one of the massive five-inch guns, but was killed when that gun exploded as the Samuel B. Roberts was sinking.

"He gave his life for us," Diaz said.

Now, as Tammie packs up that priceless honor to send to his family it's truly a Thanksgiving to remember.

"I just can't thank her enough," Cunningham said.