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4 May, 2020

An unknown heart in Cardwell

There is an unknown connection between the Battle of the Coral Sea Commemoration and a mysterious Purple Heart military medal placed at the memorial wall in 2015. The owner of the medal, the history behind the medal and most importantly why the medal was placed at the memorial today remains a mystery and a source of great conjecture for Noelene Byrne.

By Peter McCullagh

An unknown Purple Heart medal

Noelene Byrne along with co-organiser of the annual commemoration, Anne Mealing would love to find out more about the mysterious tribute.

“I recall during the laying of wreaths in 2015, a young man came forward and placed a small box amongst the wreaths at the wall’, said Noelene.

“He was young, that’s all I can really recall, perhaps in his twenty's or thirty's.

“He paused for a moment in quiet reflection and moved back into the crowd.

“Never saw him again, and would love to find out more about him.”

The contents of the box were discovered at the conclusion of the day as wreaths were collected along with tributes. Both Noelene and Anne were astonished to discover the contents, a United States Military Purple Heart medal.

The Purple Heart medal is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces in the United States who, whilst serving under competent authority with one of the US Armed Services after  April 5 1917, has been wounded or killed.

This medal could have been awarded to a sailor or airman attached to the Battle of the Coral Sea, or perhaps awarded to a service man or woman during World War Two, or the third alternative, the medal belongs to someone wounded or killed during one of the many conflicts since World War Two.

Either way, the connection between Cardwell, the Memorial and this Purple Heart remains unknown.

“The young man obviously has some connection with the history of the Battle of the Coral Sea, but what the connection is we don’t know.

“To lay such a valuable item at the memorial wall, it’s very moving. We took it into safe custody and as a mark of respect we re-lay it each year.

“It would be good to know the story behind the medal and the connection with the memorial.”

“Was the medal awarded to someone involved in the battle? Or perhaps elsewhere during WW2?

“We do not know. We would love to know, this is a mystery to us all, and knowing the connection would add greatly to the celebrations held each year.”

The medal spend its year, in safe custody in Tully, to be bought out each May, polished and placed at the base of the memorial in Cardwell for the duration of the commemoration.

Several years ago, the medal was inspected by US Captain Tony DeFrias, ex- US Naval Attaché to Australia who verified its authenticity; however the owner could not be traced.

With no serial number engraved on the medal or mintage number the origins and story will remain unknown unless someone comes forward and sheds light upon the mystery.

“It’s humbling to consider that such a valuable family heirloom would be laid in tribute at our memorial here in Cardwell. I just wish we knew more about the circumstances surrounding the medal.

“But one thing is known, we will always treat this medal with the greatest reverence and respect. Someone died or was wounded and received this medal and we will always respect this and also the gesture of placing the medal at our Memorial.”

The annual Battle of the Coral Sea Commemoration is held each year in Cardwell. The battle was fought in 1942, 800 kilometres east of Cardwell.

The US Navy lost the USS Lexington along with approximately 1000 seamen and airmen.

If any reader can shed light on the mysterious Purple Heart we ask they contact Cairns Local News. We would love to understand more about the story.


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