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Stolen medals are returned to Valley Hero

UPDATE: A Desert Hot Springs veteran has been reunited with his Purple Heart and four other military medals he earned while serving with the Navy in Vietnam from 1964 to 1969.

“I was elated, I couldn’t believe it that I got them back, I never thought I would get them back, you know I was overjoyed,” says Tom Wheeler who got his medals back Friday afternoon.

Wheeler’s home was broken into on Feb. 7.

“I was devastated, the dog wouldn’t even go in the house that’s how bad it was, everything was just thrown on the floor,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler earned his Purple Heart while patrolling the rivers of Vietnam.

“We went on the last campaign before we went home and we took three rockets in the side of the boat. They wounded everybody and I was one of the least wounded people so I managed to get everybody down to safety and back to where we could get medical help,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler learned that the Desert Hot Springs Police Department had his medals after a friend of his saw a post on the KESQ Facebook page.

The police department has not released the identity of the woman who was caught with the medals. They say the investigation is still ongoing.

PREVIOUS STORY: The Desert Hot Springs Police Department arrested two women in a stolen vehicle on Friday, and one of the suspects had Vietnam-era military medals in her possession, including a Purple Heart.

Now officers are hoping to reunite the medals with the American hero they belong to. They said the medals were in two different cases.

One case has ‘Bronze Star Medal’ written on the front and it contained four different military medals. The other case, containing the Purple Heart medal, was fittingly labeled ‘Purple Heart Medal’.

“These medals were in her purse and it’s very unlikely that these belong to a 20 something year old female, so we are reaching out to the public through the media and seeing if we can find the rightful owners,” says Sergeant Larry Essex with the Desert Hot Springs Police Department.

Police want to reunite the medals with the rightful owner. Anyone who may know who the medals belong to is asked to call Sergeant Larry Essex at 760-329-6411 EXT. 322. You can also email him at

According to a local pawn shop worker, these medals don’t have much monetary value.

“Most pawn shops that I know of in this valley wouldn’t take anything like that,” says Larry McClendon who works at Desert Hot Springs Jewelry and Loan.

There are multiple of resources online if someone lost or found a Purple Heart such as the website Reunited Purple Hearts.

Police didn’t provide any details on the two women who were arrested. News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 will follow up with more information as soon as it’s available.

KESQ News Team


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