Bluffton veteran helps reunite long-lost Purple Heart with family

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJanuary 7, 2014 

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Rich Roszelle of Bluffton was 23 years old and stalking through a jungle in Vietnam when he caught four rounds in his left leg and then tripped a mine.

It took the young Marine 18 months to walk again.

That's one reason he will help honor a stranger named Odell Holden on Wednesday morning.

Holden was a 22-year-old kid from the Myrtle Beach area who was killed in action in France in 1944.

His body was brought home to Horry County, where he was buried in the Sandy Plain United Methodist Cemetery in Galivants Ferry. A Purple Heart was mailed to his family.

Last month, that same medal was found by a contractor while restoring an old home near Conway.

With the help of Roszelle, that Purple Heart will be presented to nieces and nephews of Odell Holden. They have heard of him all their lives but never knew him. They will be given a shadow box filled with all the medals their uncle earned in World War II, including two Bronze Stars, during a ceremony at the Hall of Heroes in the Sands Ocean Dunes Resort in Myrtle Beach.

Roszelle is the S.C. adjutant for the national Military Order of the Purple Heart nonprofit organization, and part of its 81-member Col. Jimmie Leach Memorial Chapter in Beaufort.

He was asked to find someone the newly found medal might belong to. He did some digging, but quickly turned to the nonprofit Purple Hearts Reunited charity, operated by Vermont National Guard Capt. Zachariah Fike. He's an Army brat and history buff who works on cases just like this for several hours each night after his wife and babies go to sleep.

Fike discovered that Odell Holden's siblings were dead, but he found some of their children. He said Odell Holden joined the Army in Charleston on Oct. 2, 1940, the week he turned 20. He was a tech sergeant, a dangerous job dealing with heavy weapons. He served in Company Alpha of the 13th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division. He was killed between the French villages of Lesneven and Plouvien on Aug. 28, 1944.

Fike earned a Purple Heart in Afghanistan on Sept. 11, 2010. He has helped reunite 65 medals with family members and is researching more than 200 more.

"Every return of a Purple Heart has reunited a family," Fike said. "It is something they can hold and see that connects them to a loved one."

Roszelle said the Military Order of the Purple Heart, with almost 1,000 members statewide, helps veterans in many ways, from taking toiletries to the Victory House nursing home in Walterboro to lobbying in Washington. The local chapter sponsors an annual golf tournament hosted by Dataw Island, raising $127,000 over the past six years for nonprofits like the Wounded Warrior Project and the Folds of Honor Foundation.

"The Purple Heart is really personal," Roszelle said. "I could relate to Odell Holden. This gives him the proper respect he should get."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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