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Hometown Hero: A veteran and the call of duty more than 50 years in the making

Hometown Hero: A veteran and the call of duty more than 50 years in the making

"I was in the Navy. I was a radio man," veteran Jack Deshong's love of country is clear, "I still remember the international code."

He served three years in China and the Persian Gulf, then after an honorable discharge, served four more years in the Naval Reserve, but long before he could actually enlist, Deshong became a collector.

"Oh, since I was about 15-years-old, I started in military school and stared collecting patches of World War II and Germany, and it just grew from there," he said.

His daughter, Vicki Smith, says at times, it was a bit much.

"I remember a room full of memorabilia and just hated it growing up, and it's just grown," she explains with a smile.

Deshong says, some 50 years ago, a man showed up on the family's doorstep with some things to sell.

"They were on hard times in Florida, and that's where I lived at the time, and I bought 'em from him," Deshong said.

Deshong bought a distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal, and a Purple Heart bearing the name Staff Sergeant Jack Hutchinson.

"He was in the Air Force out of England. He had flown direct into Germans on a bombing run on a ball bearing plant. On his return, the plane went down in the ocean, and they never retrieved the plane or any of the bodies," Deshong said.

As time passed, the Navy veteran felt another calling -- to return those medals.

"They just need to go home; that's where they belong," he said.

But no matter how much research he did, he couldn't find the family. So, he enlisted the help of his grandson, Navy Commander Brandon Smith, who says, "I got on Ancestry.Com."

He made some headway, then finally, a phone call connected the dots.

Smith says, "I called The Pee Dee Council Boy Scouts of America just looking to talk to a kid looking to do some free research. I ended up talking to the CEO of Pee Dee Council, and he's the one who crossed referenced my records with his records and found one of the relatives of Jack Hutchinson whose sons were active in Boy Scouts."

They eventually found two of Hutchinson's nieces. It turns out their father actually sold Deshong those items all those years ago.

"It was a hard time I think financially for us, and he sold everything, and I didn't realize at the time; he used to talk about the medals and then all of a sudden, he stopped talking about the medals," explained niece Dianne Luft.

It took more than five decades, but those family heirlooms have now made it home to Matthews, North Carolina.

In fact, the sisters opened the package together just hours before I spoke with the oldest who says, "There's something symbolic and something special about touching something that was a part of him and even belonged to my father."

And now, after more than 50 years, three generations and two families have a little more peace.

Luft says, "The honor and the integrity that somebody would have to try and search for family and to never give up, that's what's amazing."

"I'm 88-years old, and I'm running out of time, and I was scared to death I wasn't going to find the families," says Deshong, and his daughter agrees. "It was very important for us," she said.

His grandson reminded us, "Stories like that and scarifies like his, and the stories of families like his, need to keep being told, and I'm glad we have a reason to keep telling it."

Deshong says it was all just the right thing to do. The family also tracked down relatives of a Vietnam veteran and returned medals to them honoring their loved one.

To Mr. Deshong and all our veterans, we would like to say thank you.

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