A World War II Purple Heart was returned by Goodwill Friday morning to the family of the fallen soldier after the medal was discovered among donations.
Guy Fisher, Goodwill vice president of mission advancement, South Bend, presented Robert Milton Needler’s Purple Heart to Robert’s first cousin, Art Needler, and Art’s wife, Joyce, at the Warsaw Goodwill retail store at 751 Anchorage Point Drive, Warsaw.
The Purple Heart had ended up at the Rochester store, Fisher explained, and then sent up to South Bend.
“We don’t sell those type of things. Typically, we return them to the Department of Defense,” Fisher said.
Recognizing it was a WWII-issued Purple Heart, however, Fisher said they decided not to send it to the Department of Defense right way because they wanted to try and return it to the owner or owner’s family. Robert’s name is printed on the back of the Purple Heart.
“Unfortunately, we do get these items quite a bit,” Fisher said.
In their research, Goodwill employees found Robert had two cousins – one in Findlay, Ohio, and Art in Leesburg. A call was made first to Art. “He was surprised to hear from us. He thought he still had it,” Fisher said. “That’s family legacy and we think they need to have it.”
“I was her (Robert’s mother) favorite nephew, and that came to me through inheritance,” Art said.
Robert, an only child, was born Aug. 9, 1924, in Montpelier to Everett Paul and Cecile Mae Emshwiller Needler. He never married. Joyce said Art was born during World War II, and when Robert died serving in Germany, Cecile clung to Art. Joyce said it took three years to get Robert’s body back to the U.S.
Art and Joyce explained they had a home in Hartford City for 50 years and one on Tippecanoe Lake for 30 years. When they decided to move to and stay in Warsaw, they not only lost the Purple Heart but Art also lost his wallet. The Warsaw Goodwill eventually called the Needler’s home in Hartford City, where their son took the call and learned that Goodwill had the wallet with everything still intact – including over $700 and credit and debit cards.
Art said he probably lost Robert’s Purple Heart in the North Webster Goodwill drop-off box in May of this year. It then made its way to the Rochester store and South Bend.
Now that they have it back, Joyce said, “I think it’s going in the lock box.” “It’s not going in my sock box, it’s going in the lock box. I didn’t know it was missing until Goodwill called,” Art said.
On May 10, 1943, at the age of 19, Robert enlisted in the Army in Indianapolis, according to information gathered and provided by Goodwill. He became a second lieutenant and was the navigator on a B17 Flying Fortress for the Air Force 364th bombardment squadron, Crew G37.
The aircraft was flying on a routine mission from Chelveston, England, toward Hamburg, Germany. At 1:55 p.m. Nov. 8, 1944, the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed just east of Endorf, Germany. The plane caught fire and was 95 percent destroyed. Needler was found dead outside the plane after the crash, according to the information provided.
All members of the crew were killed except for the engineer and the radio operator, James R. Massie. He was sent to a hospital and then taken prisoner in Barth, Germany, for six months. Members of the crew who were killed were buried in the Communal Cemetery in Endorf, Germany, (remains may have later been transferred to family grave sites). Massie provided the first-hand account of the crash for the Missing Aircrew Report, the information states.
Brigadier General Roland Walsh awarded Needler the Purple Heart post-humously.