The Vietnam War veteran kept the medal in a safe deposit box - but then his bank closed. And when the new bank couldn't track him down, it transferred the box's contents to the Illinois State Treasurer's Office.
If not for a curious mind, Walker's Purple Heart may have never been returned. His sister, Mabel Brown, searched the Illinois unclaimed property database - and her number wound up with Lee LoBue.
"And when she said that he was looking for the medal and still alive in Mississippi and would be thrilled to hear that we have found it. It was a great call to be able to make to Mr. Walker and let him know that we had those in our property," LoBue said.
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As advocacy director of unclaimed property in the Treasurer's office, LoBue has more than 100 military medals - some even dating back to the Civil War - and he wants to return each one to its rightful owner.
"There's no explaining what the medals mean to me, really, for my family," Walker said.
It meant enough that the 67-year-old drove 11 hours from his home in Mississippi to pick up his Purple Heart - as well as his Vietnam service medal and national defense medal - in person.
"It's just a great feeling to know that their families are going to have these medals for the rest of their lives. We don't want these medals in our vaults. We want them, the families, to have to cherish and to share with their generations to come," LoBue said.
For Walker, that means giving the Purple Heart to his son.
"We thought they were gone forever. But to have them back in our possession, this is indeed an honor," Mabel Brown said.
State Treasurer Michael Frerichs called Walker's story more than just one of reunion.
"We hope that it leads by setting an example here today, to other young people in this state, that service to their country is something to be proud of and something that we respect and honor."
Frerichs also hopes other veterans with lost items will visit treasurer.illinois.gov and click on the I-Cash page to see if their property is in state possession.
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