By John E. Bircher III
Director, Public Relations for the Military order of the Purple Heart
While Joyce Fike was Christmas shopping for her son, Vermont Army National Guard Capt. Zachariah L. Fike, she discovered a WWII medal in an antique Shop that she thought would make the perfect gift for her son. But this wasn’t just any medal; it was a Purple Heart medal which she purchased for $100.
Inside the box with the medal was a dog tag with the same name as was engraved on the back of the medal, Corrado A.G. Piccoli, below the words “For Military Merit.”
A life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and an avid military memorabilia collector, Captain Fike himself had received a Purple Heart after being wounded in a rocket attack in Afghanistan on Sept. 11, 2010.
According to Fike, “This is a special medal that definitely needs to go back to the family.” His mother’s gift was the start of what would be a year-long obsession to discover what had happened to U.S. Army Private Corrado Piccoli, and to possibly find a family member to whom he could return the medal.
With the aid of the internet, Fike began researching local and national archives for the name and service number engraved on the dog tag. He learned that Corrado Piccoli had been born in Italy in 1923 and immigrated to Watertown, NY with his parents, Bernardino and Vincenza, at the age of three. Fighting for his adopted country, Bernardino Piccoli was himself a veteran of WWI.
Corrado enlisted in the Army in January 1943, and soon thereafter was shipped overseas to fight in Europe with Company H, 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, which fought in Anzio and Southern France. In August, he proudly wrote his parents that he had visited his birth country. Only two months later, a telegram from the War Department informed the Piccolis that their son had gone missing on October 7. A few days later, a second message confirmed he had been killed in action in Fremifontaine, France.
Fike’s research revealed that the Piccoli family had lived at 321 High St. and that he had six brothers and sisters, but he was unable to find any siblings or relatives still living in Watertown. Believing he may have been Catholic, Fike succeeded in finding Pvt. Piccoli’s grave in a family plot in Watertown’s ” Glenwood Cemetery,” the cemetery for the local parish.
Finally, a story in the Watertown Daily Times resulted in the discovery of a living sister, Mary Piccoli.
When Fike contacted her, she was excited to learn about Fike’s quest, and was surprised when told about the find. She said, “I thought my other brother, Nat in Baldwinsville, had it, since he’s the only other male in the family.” She said she and her siblings have no idea how the medal fell out of family hands.
Capt. Fike has now met with two of Piccoli’s three sisters as well as the Italian American Civic Association of Watertown, NY, and has set the date of August 7, 2011 to award the Purple Heart back to the Family. Ironically, August 7th is National Purple Heart Day. What a fitting day to honor one of America’s forgotten heroes, PVT Corrado Piccoli.
On that date, Capt. Fike will present Corrado’s brother and 3 sisters, plus about 50 family members, with a display case with Corrado’s Medals, to include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal w/ 2 Campaign Stars, WWII Victory Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Expert Marksman’s Badge, and the Honorable Service Lapel Pin. There is also an original 48 Star Flag that was passed over Corrado’s grave that will be placed inside the display case.
The organization now known as the “Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) of the U.S.A. Inc.,” was formed in 1932 for the protection and mutual interest of all who have received the decoration. Chartered by the Congress, The MOPH is unique among Veteran Service Organizations in that all its members were wounded in combat. For this sacrifice, they were awarded the Purple Heart Medal. With grants from the MOPH Service Foundation, the MOPH and its Ladies Auxiliary promote Patriotism, Fraternalism, and the Preservation of America’s military history.
Most importantly, they provide comfort and assistance to all Veterans and their families, especially those requiring claims assistance with the VA, those who are homeless, and those requiring employment assistance. MOPH volunteers through the VAVS program, provide assistance to hospitalized veterans at VA sites and State Veterans Homes.