ST. ALBANS, Vt. — A group that seeks to reunite lost Purple Hearts with descendants of soldiers is embarking on an ambitious project: to return 100 such medals or certificates earned in World War I before the 100th anniversary next April of the United States’ entry into the conflict.

Zachariah Fike, of the Vermont-based Purple Hearts Reunited, began the project after noticing he had in his collection of memorabilia a total of exactly 100 Purple Hearts or equivalent lithographs awarded for injuries or deaths from the Great War.

“You’re honoring fallen heroes,” said Fike, a Vermont National Guard captain wounded in Afghanistan in 2010. “These are our forefathers; these are the guys that have shed their blood or sacrificed their lives for us. Any opportunity to bring light to that is always a good thing.”

The lithographs, known as a Lady Columbia Wound Certificate and showing a toga-wearing woman knighting an infantry soldier on bended knee, were what World War I military members wounded or killed while serving were awarded before the Purple Heart came into being in 1932. World War I service members who already had a lithograph became eligible for a Purple Heart at that time.

The Purple Hearts and the certificates include the name of the service member to whom they were awarded. Fike is working with researchers to try to find the descendants of the service members. So far, he has found about two dozen.

The first return that’s part of the World War I project was over Memorial Day weekend, on Saturday in Hanover, Pennsylvania, where the medal awarded to Cpl. William Frederick Zartman, who was severely wounded while fighting in France on July 22, 1918, was returned to his grandnephew. After the war, Zartman became a barber in Pennsylvania and died in 1948.

Zartman’s descendant Wayne Bowers, 64, of Thomasville, Pennsylvania, said before the ceremony that he was unaware of the details of his uncle’s World War I service until he heard from Fike’s organization at the beginning of May.

“He died before I was born, and I never knew anything more about it,” Bowers said. “My whole family is in shock, really. … It’s a fantastic thing to find out.”

Fike’s efforts began in 2009, after his mother gave him a Purple Heart and dog tags she had bought in an antique shop. He realized he should return the medal to its owner, Pvt. Corrado A.G. Piccoli, an Italian immigrant from the Watertown, New York, area who Fike had learned was killed in France in 1944.

Fike later returned the medal to Piccoli’s sister.

So far, the most articles Fike’s organization has returned in one year is 60. It plans to return the World War I medals by early April 6, 2017. And it will continue to return medals awarded in other conflicts.