A Brookings, Oregon resident came across a Purple Heart medal, engraved with the name “Albert Schaffle”.
Albert Schaffle was a pilot and First Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps during World War II. The story in his family is that he was shot down during a mission near Saipan. Another pilot witnessed him getting into a life raft – unharmed.
Albert Schaffle had boxed and played football at Rutgers and obtained a degree in literature. He kept a detailed diary of his training and experiences in the Pacific during his two years of service in the Air Corps. Apparently, he planned a career in journalism and hoped to go back to a fiancée in North Carolina.
Don Meier’s investigations, into whom the medal should be sent, also revealed more details about Schaffle’s final hours.
The Purple Heart is awarded to wounded servicemen and women. For those who were missing or dead, their name was engraved and the medal delivered to their family.
DeeDee Powers, a volunteer at the Outreach Gospel Mission in Brookings, Oregon, was handed the small black case by another staff member who had received it from a Japanese woman who had interned in the US during World War II.
Every night, for over a month, Powers searched for Albert Schaffle’s name on the internet. She found out that he was in the 318th Fighter Group, 19th Fighter Squadron. 13 members of the group went missing in action and 71 pilots were lost in the Pacific.
Schaffle was skilled in flying. He served as a flight instructor when he was based in Hawaii.
However, when Powers’ life became too busy, she handed the paperwork she had found on Schaffle onto Don Meier, in the hopes that the service veteran would find out the whereabouts of Schaffle’s relatives.
Meier served in the Navy for four years and for another 26 years with the Coast Guard. He served on a gunboat in the Mekong Delta and had seen action in Vietnam and had shrapnel wounds.
For a month, Meier made calls to town and city halls, and used the Internet. He finally traced Schaffle to Pennsylvania.
He found out that Schaffle’s father, Dr Karl Schaffle, was a chief medical inspector for Pennsylvania. He was famous for pioneering work in treatment of tuberculosis and appears in the “Who’s Who in Medicine” list.
Later, the Doctor moved to North Carolina. One of his daughters, Evalyn had married Robert Steward, an Army officer, and later moved to Northbridge.
Regarding how the medal was found in a thrift shop, it is left to speculation. Schaffle’s sister, who had passed away about 25 years ago, lived about an hour’s drive north of Brookings. It was probably among her effects. Her stepsons settled her estate. Either through indifference or neglect, they likely discarded the medal, as well as her other possessions, after a passage of years.
Powers also found a formal commendation from Lieutenant General Holland Smith and Vice Admiral Kelley Turner to the 318th Fighter Group. An attached report on the island campaign noted that Schaffle had signaled from his raft that he was ok. A rescue seaplane was on the strip, after delivering some Marine General for front line inspection. The crew would not move without the General’s go-ahead, and by that time it was dark. The search was postponed until morning and Schaffle was never found.
Out of about 405,000 servicemen and women who died in World War II, about 78,000 (one out of five) went missing in action.