Myrtle Beach-area family of WWII soldier to receive his Purple Heart in ceremony

spalisin@thesunnews.comJanuary 5, 2014 

About 400 gathered for the dedication of the Hall of Heroes in the Rawcliffe Center at Sands Resorts in Myrtle Beach on Friday March 27, 2009. The Hall of Heroes centerpiece is a scaled replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, complete with all 58,253 names. Photo by Steve Jessmore sjessmore@thesunnews.com

STEVE JESSMORE — The Sun News

The soul and dedication to earn a Purple Heart medal does not die with its recipient, even if awarded posthumously and lost for years, in some cases decades.

Rich Roszelle of Bluffton, the S.C. adjutant for Military Order of the Purple Heart organization, will attest to that, after a quest to find descendants for a medal found in 2012 during a home remodeling project in Conway.

The medal had been awarded to Odell Holden, an Army technical sergeant from Myrtle Beach who was killed in action Aug. 28, 1944, at age 23, in France during World War II.

A formal presentation of the medal to a nephew and niece of Holden’s, whom Roszelle said are both local residents, will take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Hall of Heroes, Sands Ocean Dunes Resort, 201 75th. Ave. N., Myrtle Beach, which opens at 9 a.m. daily.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs data show that the Purple Heart, the nation’s oldest military award, was introduced as the “Badge of Military Merit” by Gen. George Washington in 1782.

Roszelle credited Shane Gray, who was cleaning up a house on U.S. 501 in Conway, for initiating the whole process that involved several people to ensure a home for this Purple Heart was found with Holden’s heirs.

Question | How was this precious medal discovered by Mr. Gray amid all the clutter of a work project in a house?

Answer | He came across the Purple Heart medal, which was in its original case. Mr. Gray then gave it to a Purple Heart recipient who lived near him, and that man hooked up with Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 0354CQ in Myrtle Beach, to a commander there, Bill Huffaker; he contacted me to see if we might be able to find any of Holden’s family members.

Q. What long and winding road ensued from that point?

A. We began a search. First, I started looking through all the flight pages, looking for his name, but found no clues in that. Then I went on a website looking under Purple Heart lost medals, PurpleHeartsReunited.org, a website that has had great success of finding information and getting guys in contact with returns of lost Purple Heart medals.

It’s run by Capt. Zachariah Fike; he serves in the Army National Guard as a captain in St. Albans, Vt. He’s served in combat in tours in Iraq and Afghanistan ... and was awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. He has been successful in 30 other families with recipients of Purple Hearts medals, and he’s working on 100 more. He really helped us a lot.

Q. What other details about Tech Sgt. Holden’s military service and family have been found?

A. He served with Company Alpha 13th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division with the U.S. Army. … The division entered Lesneven, France on Aug. 18, 1944. Odell would have been killed just before the division entered Plouvien, France, on Aug. 30, 1944. …

Odell had five sisters and two brothers, all from the Conway-Myrtle Beach areA. All were deceased, but Capt. Fike was able to contact a nephew, Buddy Richardson, and niece, Lois Weatherford. They will be receiving the old Purple Heart medal in the case. I’ll have Shane Gray and Capt. Fike present the old Purple Heart medal to the family in its original box.

Q. How infrequent is such a reunion like this with a Purple Heart with recipients’ families?

A. It’s not that often, because often you never find out anything about them. We’re really grateful for Capt. Fike; this gentleman was able to get information we were not able to get.

Q. What other preparations are underway for the ceremony on Jan. 8?

A. I got in touch with personnel at Medals of America since I had most of Mr. Holden’s information. Odell also was awarded a Bronze Star and numerous other citations and awards. They’re making an honor box with all his medals in it. Our state commander, R. James Miller of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and I will present that to the family.

Q. In what other ways will Staff Sgt. Holden’s honors and sacrifice be remembered?

A. We have a national museum in upstate New York, the Purple Heart Hall of Honor. His name will be submitted to the national museum, with a little biography about him.

Q. What other services and good deeds does the Military Order of the Purple Heart provide, and how easily can individuals get involved with the cause?

A. Nationally, we have 478 chapters, and we have 13 here in South CarolinA. I am the adjutant for South CarolinA. ... Contact – that’s what I do. I probably get an average of 15 calls a week from veterans who need help with information because they don’t know how to work within the system of benefits available through the VA.

We’re composed of veterans and wounded warriors from World War II right up through Afghanistan. I was a Vietnam veteran. … It’s a fraternal organization. …

We have 987 members in South CarolinA. It’s $50 for a lifetime membership. We provided veterans with a service office, and we’re always looking for new members.

Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.

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