Now retired, Terrel Wheeles picked up a new hobby: buying the contents of abandoned storage units at auctions. It was inside one of those storage unites in Alexander City, Alabama that Wheeles discovered what he calls his most interesting find.
"This is priceless," he explained of the nearly dozen war medals.
The medals include two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, the third highest honor available to a soldier. The medals were awarded to a soldier killed in Vietnam, Sgt. Steven Cummins.
Knowing the importance of the medals, Wheeles wanted to return them to Cummins' family, but after more than a year without success, "I ran into a dead end," he admitted.
With no luck, he turned to WSFA 12 News. "All I'd like to do is get them back to the family," he explained.
[SLIDESHOW: Recovered War Medals]
WSFA 12 News went to work sifting through the information left inside that storage unit where we discovered the name of a Sgt. Cummins' widow, Kathy. She had also served in the military and received recognition for her service.
Our crew began the search for Kathy Cummins, but unfortunately discovered that she died more than a decade ago. However, we were able to locate a relative. Along with Mr. Wheeles, we returned the paperwork documenting Mrs. Cummins' service to her niece, Rhonda McElvey.
McElvey never knew Sgt. Cummins or his family, so we went back to work trying to locate them. Several clues indicated they had lived in Florida at one point, but searches for family members in the Sunshine State came up empty...
Our crew searched online and placed phone calls and finally, after days of digging, we located Sgt. Cummins' mother and sister! They now live in Kansas City, Missouri.
We called the mom and sister to let them know we had located their loved one's medals.
"We were proud of him," they said. "This is all we have left of him..."
For Mr. Wheeles, he says there's not doubt in his mind that Cummins was a hero.
It turns out, the medals were given to Sgt. Cummins' widow upon his death. When she died they were placed in storage and forgotten.
Not wanting to simply put the medals in the mail, one of WSFA 12 News' web producers, JoBeth Davis, stepped up and said she would personally deliver the medals during her upcoming vacation. She's from the Kansas City area.
Davis returned the medals to their rightful owner after she arriving home, Thursday, July 4th. Independence Day. We managed to secure a news crew from local TV station KCTV who agreed to bring a camera to record the event.
We would like to thank Mr. Wheeler for reaching out to the WSFA 12 News team to help reunite the medals with Mr. Cummins' family!
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