Albert Van Bergen
A Purple Heart's journey from a landfill back into family hands
Albert Van Bergen was serving with the 39th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division in the Argonne during WW1 when he was shot in the leg by a sniper.
He laid wounded in the forest for two days, hanging onto life, before being found by those who came by to pick up the dead from the fierce battle of the days before.
Though his life was saved in that moment, Albert lost his leg.
It is believed that Albert was the only man left from his machine gun unit.
Sometime after his recovery he became a prosthetic salesman, which is how he met his wife. As a young girl her leg had been crushed in the jams of a railroad track, and as a result her leg was also lost.
Years later, a gentleman knocked on her door to sell her a new prosthesis. It was Albert, and they fell in love. The family still calls it ‘the peg leg romance’.
Albert and Tillie raised six children. Three of their sons went into service: 2 in WWII, 1 in Korea. Two of their daughters married men who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
And guess what?
Albert tried to enlist for WWII, but was turned away. His family remembers him as tough - life threw hefty challenges at him from time to time but he was never one to give up.
Albert and Tillie passed in 1958, three weeks apart.
Including Albert, there have been 20 Veterans in the Van Bergen family since WWI. Seven of Albert’s grandsons also served. His grandson Robert was given Albert's medals from WWI and his father Richard’s from WWII, and he kept them with his own medals from Vietnam.
Nearly 50 years ago the medals of all three Veterans were stolen. For a family who lives and breathes the sacrifice that a medal symbolizes, this was devastating.
Enter Wayne, a sanitation worker, who spotted the Purple Heart in a landfill. As a Vietnam Veteran, Wayne also understands the meaning behind the medal. He scooped it up, brought it home, and contacted us for help in locating the family.
As you might imagine, they were thrilled to receive an out-of-the-blue phone call letting them know that Albert’s Purple Heart had been found. We connected Wayne with Jennifer, Albert’s great-granddaughter (seen together in the photo), so that Wayne could reunite the medal with the Van Bergen family in person. Jennifer brought the medal home to Albert’s grandson, Robert.
We are often in awe over the journey a Purple Heart undertakes to find its way home.
50 years after it was stolen from Robert, his grandfather Albert’s Purple Heart has returned. It shows the signs of a tough journey, a little bit tattered but still solid and intact.
Just like Albert.
And just like Albert, his Purple Heart never gave up.
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