When Mike Nason, of Minot, obtained a Silver Star, one of the highest awards for bravery in combat, with the name of the recipient on the back of the medal, and a South Vietnamese medal, he knew he wanted to return the military medals to the soldier’s family.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said.
He said it’s very unusual that a Silver Star was being sold because it is a highly recognized and coveted award.
The Silver Star is the third highest award for bravery in combat given by the U.S. military.
The other medal, the South Vietnamese Military Merit Medal, is given by the Republic of Vietnam to soldiers who performed extreme acts of bravery.
Nason obtained the medals from a local individual who bought them at an April 27 auction held at Northern Auction Co. in Minot.
Nason, a captain with the Ward County Sheriff’s Department, told Kathy Holte, administrative assistant at the Ward County Veterans Service Office in Minot, that he had the medals. He said he felt the local Veterans Service Office needed to be involved and asked for their help in locating the soldier’s family.
Holte began searching for family members of the soldier whose name was on the back of the Silver Star Robert G. Elgin.
Robert Gerald Elgin was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968.
Through searching the Internet, Holte located the name of the cemetery where Elgin was buried. She contacted the church and then was put in touch with Laurie Porter, manager of Bethany Lutheran Cemetery in Spanaway, Wash. Porter also is a geneologist.
Nason said Holte’s findings were what he was hoping for.
In a phone call Wednesday, Porter told those involved in the search in North Dakota that she had located Elgin’s daughter, Katherine Ferry.
“She’s thrilled. She’s in Oklahoma,” Porter said.
Nason told Porter in the phone conversation Wednesday that he bought the medals from another individual who had purchased them at an auction. “Once I figured out what the situation was and realized there may be somebody out there who should have these, I wanted to get them reunited,” he said.
“I’ve been a military collector all my adult life and I know how important those things are to families,” Nason said. He said his father retired from the Air Force in 1973 when he was at Minot Air Force Base.
Nason thanked Porter for what she did to find Elgin’s daughter. Porter responded, “I just want to thank you for doing the right thing. That is super. It just doesn’t happen anymore.”
“I think it’s just wonderful,” Katherine Ferry, Elgin’s daughter, told The Minot Daily News later Wednesday when talking about the medals that had been found. Ferry lives in Tulsa, Okla.
She said she’s not really surprised that some of her dad’s medals have been recovered. She said she didn’t know what had happened to them.
Her dad, Staff Sgt. Robert Gerald Elgin, was killed in action April 4, 1968, when she was 3 years old. Her parents had divorced and she and her sister, Tina Lenora, of Mesa, Ariz., who is 10 months and 22 days older than her, were adopted by family members and raised in separate homes. They were born and raised in Oklahoma. Their dad mainly grew up in Washington state but also had lived in California.
Elgin was 29 when he died in Thua Thien province in South Vietnam during small arms fire. He was with the 82nd Airborne Division, 505th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade. He went to Vietnam in February 1968.
“From what I understand, he served two years,” Ferry said.
She said she has a memory of her dad, although she’s not sure it was a dream or an actual memory since she was so small when he died. “I remember my adopted parents and I my mother’s sister and husband lived in Tulsa at these apartments. I remember seeing someone in a white T-shirt, a short guy and blondish hair. My dad and I were playing checkers,” she said.
Ferry said her dad was raised by his stepmother. “When he got killed I guess the medals went to his biological mother,” she said. But she never knew or met her.
Ferry said she had been searching for information about her dad in 2001 and posted a message on the Virtual Wall, a website for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., asking for anyone who might have information about him.
Nason turned the medals over to the the Ward County Veterans Service Office Thursday and they will be sent to Ferry in Tulsa.
Porter plans to include information about Elgin’s medals being recovered in the program for the local Memorial Day observance at the cemetery in Spanaway.
Elgin also received other medals and efforts are being made through the office of Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., to replace the medals for Ferry.
However, his Purple Heart may have been with the medals sold at the auction in Minot but went to another party.
“We would hope that someone would come forward and say, ‘I bought that at the auction, here it is,’ ” Nason said.
“Hopefully they’ll either call us (Ward County Veterans Service Office) or call Mike,” Holte said.
Elgin’s other medals, according to information posted on the Virtual Wall website, are the National Defense Medal, Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, 82nd Airborne Badge, Parachute Badge and Combat Infantry Badge.
Ferry, who has no photos of her dad when he was in the military, said she’s anxious to see her dad’s medals.