RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) --Former Marine Josh Garrison walked into the UPS store at Raleigh's Brier Creek carrying a mystery in a small black box. It was left to Josh when his father-in-law died.
Inside was one of the most important medals given to U.S. service members - the Purple Heart.
On the back of the medal was the inscription Joseph P. Santucci. Josh felt it was his duty to get the medal back to its rightful owner.
"It took actually a little while because this guy died several years ago," Josh told the owner of the UPS store. "And there's more than one Joseph P. Santucci that's around."
Knowing his father-in-law was from the Boston area, he tried searching for Santucci there. That's when he found an obituary that ran in the Boston Globe in 2011.
It was for a Nina Santucci and it said she was the wife of the late Joseph P. Santucci. Also listed were two daughters.
One of the daughters worked at a Boston-area college and had a public email address. Josh took a shot in the dark and emailed her.
"She wrote me back, got on the phone. And she said nobody in the family knows where it went. There were rumors that they gave it to some cousin or this or that and then she starts crying," Josh said. "And I'm like, 'Hey, listen, as a Marine officer, it's my job to get this back to you."
"I got all emotional because, in part, he was talking about my dad which we missed dearly for years," Santucci's daughter, Deborah Nickerson, said from her home in Massachusetts. "He was talking about actually giving us a piece of him back which, I'm going to cry now."
Deborah was touched by Josh's efforts to return the Purple Heart.
"I said to him, 'Oh, my gosh how do I thank you for doing this? You clearly have gone way out of your way and didn't have to.' I think that's still making me emotional."
At the UPS store, Josh wrote a note which he put in the box.
It read, "Deborah, it is my sincere hope that your father's Purple Heart finds its rightful place with you and your family. Thank you for his service. Respectfully, Josh Garrison, Captain, United States Marine Corps, Retired."
Deborah says her father, who died thirty years ago, was proud of his military service during World War II and she knew he had been wounded.
"He was deaf in one ear. He had been wounded by a shell that passed so close it actually singed him and ruptured his drum," Deborah said.
But, Deborah said, he didn't talk about combat. Although the family knew he served and was wounded, they had never actually seen the medal.
"He would nod once in while if we said, 'But if you were wounded you would have gotten the Purple Heart.' And he nodded but that was about all."
It was an emotional few days for Deborah, who went from being skeptical about an email from a stranger more than 700 miles away to tears of joy over a piece of family history.
She didn't even tell her sister until she knew it was all a reality.
"She started to cry too," she said. "I mean, you know, again we both miss him so much."
Now the Santucci family has possibly one of the most important physical tributes to their patriarch.
"To have something like this to be able to show and let them touch and hold is amazing," Deborah said.
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