Photos: Long-lost Purple Heart returns to Riverhead family

11/11/2017 12:31 PM |

Last Sunday morning, Lori Riley of Riverhead posted a story on Facebook about a dream she had. She was sitting in a park when her late husband, Willie Riley, approached her, gave her a kiss and left.

He was wearing his favorite cowboy hat, she wrote, adding that she missed him.

Later that evening, Ms. Riley learned that his Purple Heart, which had been missing for more than 20 years, was found in a safety deposit box that belonged to his late sister in East St. Louis.

Mr. Riley, who died Dec. 17, 2016 at age 71, was a Vietnam veteran who earned the Purple Heart and four Bronze Stars for his service in the Army. He served from 1967 to 1969.

On Saturday, Veterans Day, the Riley family was presented with his award at Calverton National Cemetery.

It was something he had hoped to find before he died, Ms. Riley said.

“It’s just complete now,” she said after the ceremony. “It’s closure for him, not for me, but for him. Just for the whole family and all these people to be here was just better than you could imagine. It’s overwhelming and just special, really special.”

Congressman Lee Zeldin’s representative Cleveland Johnson presented a certificate of special congressional recognition and a flag that was flown over the capitol to the Riley family.

Mr. Riley’s daughter, Heather Jackson, who is a member of the Air National Guard, said her father inspired her to join the armed services. Her brother, Darien, is in the Marine reserves.

Receiving her father’s Purple Heart was “a long-time coming,” she said.

“It’s unreal to see it in real life, finally,” she said. “It’s super exciting for him.”

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Top photo: Lori Riley is presented with her late husband’s Purple Heart. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

Willie Riley’s daughter, Heather Jackson, holds her father’s long-lost Purple Heart up to his grave.

Heather Jackson and Darien Riley.

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