Purple Heart makes long trip back to ETX family - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Purple Heart makes long trip back to ETX family

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TYLER, TX (KLTV) -

If you just happened to pass by a little gathering on the square in downtown Tyler Tuesday afternoon, there's no way you could know just how important it was, or how much work it took to make it happen.

But at the center of that gathering, a Purple Heart medal is finally home, after a trip from more than 1500 miles away.

Kris Wilson of Edom had given up on finding her long-lost uncle, Robert Bates, who died on board the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Her family had tried to fill that hole in its history for 20 years.

What they couldn't know is that earlier this year in Bakersfield, California, someone found Robert's purple heart, basically in the street.

That medal found its way to a high school history class, taught by Ken Hooper.

"When they brought it in, I showed it to the students, and they attacked the computers," Hooper said.

Hooper's students knew how important the medal was, but were stonewalled by, of all things, a 70-year-old typo.

"The official Pearl Harbor web site, says Tobert Bates, not Robert Bates," Hooper said.

Hooper and his students kept working, and finally connected Robert to his niece in East Texas, who couldn't believe it when she got the phone call.

"That part of our history was almost lost for good," Wilson said. "His great-nieces and nephews, his memory will live on."

And they'll have that medal to help. Hooper made the trip from California to personally deliver it to the family. And he's got a great story to tell his students when he gets home.

"Teachers get paid in strange ways, this was payment in full," Hooper said.  "To see her reaction, I knew that we did the right thing."

Thanks to the work done by Mr. Hooper's class, the Bates family also found more of their family in Athens, TX.

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