Purple Heart found in abandoned car to be reunited with sailor’s family

Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 9:30 AM PST|Updated: Feb. 19, 2021 at 2:04 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - UPDATE FEB. 19 Seventy-six years after a U.S. Navy Chief Commissary Steward died in kamikaze attacks during the Battle of Iwo Jima, the Purple Heart he posthumously received is being given to a son he never met.

Several years ago, a Purple Heart medal was found abandoned in a vehicle in the All Points Towing junkyard in Reno. The only clue to its ownership was the name on the back- Charles N. Lincoln.

No one knew who to give the medal to, so it ended up with Howard “Mac” McField, a retired U.S. Marine who owns a window tinting business next door.

“I was surprised that a medal like that was left in a car,” McField said. “And I wondered, did the person lose it, misplace it, was it stolen? So, I just felt it was just right to get it back to its rightful owner.”

That started a two-year search for Lincoln’s family which proved to be a difficult task. McField reached out to Frank Greenwood with the Disabled American Veterans Reno Chapter #1 who joined in the effort.

“You don’t find Purple Hearts laying in abandoned cars, I mean it’s just so unusual,” Greenwood said. Both McField and Greenwood said they felt it was their mission, as fellow veterans, to bring the medal home.”

“I’ve yet to fail on a mission,” McField said. “And for me at this point I feel as though I was failing because I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do.”

The two were able to trace the name to a World War II veteran from Greenfield, Mass. Thanks to help from the Upper Pioneer Valley Veteran’s Services, more details about Lincoln’s life were revealed.

Charles Lincoln was born to Frederick Lincoln and Rosetta Nichols in 1917. He enlisted in the Navy in 1934. By February 21, 1945 at the age of 27, Lincoln was dead.

History buffs know what happens next.

On February 21, 1945, the USS Bismarck sunk when it was hit by two kamikaze planes during the Battle of Iwo Jima. More that 300 sailors were killed, Lincoln included.

His family was notified of his death in April 1945.

It seemed Lincoln died without fathering a son, and that the medal would be sent to the Upper Pioneer Valley Veteran’s Services to be displayed. That is until KOLO 8 News Now aired a story about the medal. That’s where the story takes an interesting turn.

A man named James Johnson reached out to Greenwood. He said he saw the story, and is the son Charles Lincoln.

According to Johnson, Lincoln developed a relationship with a woman named Arlene. Her husband was serving in the Army, and had been reported missing in action and presumed dead. The two had a substantial relationship, and in January of 1945, James was born. Johnson says Lincoln knew about him. Arlene once told him about a letter from Lincoln saying he couldn’t wait to meet his son. However, that would never come to be as just one month later, Lincoln was killed.

Shortly after Lincoln’s death, Arlene got word her husband had been found and he was coming home.

“And so she got desperate,” Johnson said. “She didn’t know at that point whether he would accept me or not, and so she talked to her sister and her sister adopted me.”

Johnson says he always knew his aunt was his birth mother. It was never a family secret.

He also knows that Lincoln’s family knew about him. Francis wrote to Lincoln’s mother, Rosetta, because she felt it was important for them to know Lincoln’s memory would live on. There are several letters between the two, and at one point Rosetta met James. He never had a relationship with his grandmother, but he says other than Charles she is the one person he would have loved to know.

Johnson’s love for his adoptive mother, Francis, was so strong that until recently he never felt a need to learn more about his past. But as more information comes to light, and now knowing there is a Purple Heart, he is eager to learn more.

“It’s interesting. I never thought about it before but now all of this has evolved, and I have more of an interest than I ever have before. It’s interesting I had a father who wanted me so much,” said Johnson.

Johnson and his wife now plan a road trip from Montana to Nevada to retrieve the medal and meet with Greenwood and McField.

“It’s so important that we get this back to the family,” Greenwood said. “It’s an heirloom. You know the family should be proud that he gave his life for this country.”

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