AUGUSTA — A World War I Maine National Guardsman’s Purple Heart has returned to Maine. 

In a ceremony at Camp Chamberlain on Thursday, Purple Hearts Reunited gave the Purple Heart medal of Sgt. Erroll Wilbert Brawn to the Joint Forces Headquarters of the Maine Army National Guard.

“As a guardsman, it is important to me,” said Capt. Jonathan Bratten, who is the command historian, “because I believe we have a great community heritage.

“The common individuals step forward in times of crisis, and then they are propelled to this world stage where they are very humble in what they do, but they do amazing things for our nation,” he added. “It is great to experience connection between the past and today and see the way our heritage is displayed.”

Purple Hearts Reunited returns lost, stolen or misplaced medals to veterans and their families. The national nonprofit based out of St. Albans, Vermont, has returned more than 650 medals around the United States.

PHR Operations Director Jessica Jaggars, who is also a captain and unit commander in the Vermont National Guard, said uniting medals can be “cathartic.”

“You bring a tangible piece to the family — they can hold it, look at it — we bring memories, sometimes stories for the first time, and history,” she said. “For me personally, it’s always an incredible experience.”

Jaggars said it is rare that the organization gets to return a World War I medal. 

Born in 1890, Brawn was a native of Guilford. PHR was able to locate an elderly nephew of Brawn who resides in that town. The family member, who was not named, requested PHR’s assistance finding a deserving home for the medal. 

So the Maine National Guard was chosen, and the Purple Heart will be displayed in the Joint Forces Headquarters. 

Brawn enlisted in the Maine National Guard in 1916, the year before the U.S. entered World War I. He was part of the 26th “Yankee” Division, a unit formed when the National Guard of New England was consolidated, and the 2nd Maine became 103rd U.S. Infantry Regiment.

He was part of the Company F, and one week after the start of the Great War, his company was called in service. 

“Brawn had watched his first dog fights overhead, which must have been something coming from rural Maine,” said Bratton during the ceremony. “He had probably never seen an aircraft, and now was seeing hundreds flying around above him daily.” 

Brawn was wounded fighting with his regiment in 1918.

Manning a portion of front line near the town of Xivray, France, Company F was attacked by Germans seeking to isolate the American position. The regiment opened machine gun and rifle fire, and threw grenades on their attackers. 

It is not known if Brawn received his wounds from artillery or from close fighting. He was one of hundreds hurt in the battle; 28 sacrificed their lives.

Brawn returned to duty after a month, and was on the front line during Armistice. Upon his return, he was part of the parade in Boston, in front of the city’s largest crowd — up until the Red Sox’s World Series victory in 2004, Bratten explained.

He was honorably discharged in 1919, and was awarded the Purple Heart No. 81189 in 1932. He died in 1978.

“It is an amazing piece of history — Maine history,” said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Vashon, who has been a guardsman for 32 years. “It is something we should be proud of.”

Lost medals are discovered in all sorts of ways, Jaggars said. She said they have been found in furniture, at thrift stores and buried in backyards. In 2014, the organization received a lost Purple Heart discovered by Smuckers, a dog digging in his backyard. 

Jaggars said families often keep a medal with the intent of honoring a loved one, but the awards become forgotten, especially as generations die. 

While many Purple Hearts are given to PHR, she said the nonprofit spends $50,000 to $75,000 annually rescuing medals from Ebay, Etsy, antique shops and pawn shops.

An internet search for antique Purple Heart medals showed similar honors from World War II for sale with price tags of hundreds of dollars. 

Brawn’s Purple Heart medal was discovered recently in the possession of a militaria collector in Massachusetts, Jaggar said, and was purchased for PHR.

“One of the things that separate the National Guard from other kinds of services is the history and the roots that go back into our communities,” said Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham, following the ceremony while guardsmen looked at the Purple Heart. Farnham accepted the award on behalf of the Maine National Guard. “When you can bring something back that was one of our own, that is what it is all about to us — the history and the community. It is really special.” 

The 87-year-old medal will be displayed at Camp Chamberlain. Framed with Brawn’s photo, the medal appears as it came to PHR and is missing its ribbon. The back of the frame has been left open in order to see the medal’s engraving. 


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