Among U.S. Navy Commander David Schwind’s personal collection is a small box containing a Purple Heart medal posthumously awarded to U.S. Army Air Forces Lt. William Hatton, pilot of the B-24D Liberator Lady Be Good, which disappeared without a trace in the Libyan Desert April 4, 1943 while on its first combat mission.
“I had known about the story of the Lady Be Good since I was a kid and the story itself always fascinated me,” Schwind said. “And I just happened to get really lucky and happened to acquire the pilot’s purple heart in my personal collection and so obviously I had to write about it because this is one of the stories I grew up with. It really struck a chord with me through most of my life.”
The story of the Lady Be Good and her pilot and crew are among more than 300 profiles of military members from all branches of service in Schwind’s most recent book, Sacrifice Remembered: Posthumous Awards of the Purple Heart Medal in the Second World War.
The result of two years of research, Schwind brings together the stories of service members from the Army, Army Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Public Health Service, along with detailed color photos of their medals and accompanying documents to create the most complete reference book available on the Purple Heart and all U.S. valor medals of World War II.
“There are a lot of variations of Purple Hearts, and they range from whether it’s a Navy Purple Heart made by the U.S. Mint and engraved in a certain style or whether its is a Purple Heart made for the Army under contract by The Robbins Company of Massachusetts,” Schwind said. “Finding out how they were manufactured, and the different styles really raises the level of appreciation for the actual object. I like to make books that are the most value added possible, so I also included all the rest of the person’s medals earned, which means there are also up close and personal pictures of Medals of Honor, Silver Stars, Distinguished Service Crosses, Navy Crosses and more.”
Available on Amazon and through publisher Medals Press, the 593-page book is divided into five parts, including an introduction detailing the origin and history of the Purple Heart and thirteen chapters profiling awards by branch, theater, and battle, with separate chapters on awards to fallen prisoners of war, families that lost multiple children and non-Purple Heart posthumous awards of valor. The final chapter details the casualty process to notification of next of kin and contains photographs never previously published. Four appendices tailored for collectors, historians and researchers address Purple Heart award boxes and shipping containers, Purple Heart types and engraving styles, information on researching the history of Purple Hearts and one appendix lists the 14,379 known, traceable and identifiable numbered Purple Hearts. The remaining pages include bibliography, references and index.
“You don’t have to have earned a Purple Heart or to have even served in the military to really appreciate what it represents, the sacrifice that it represents,” Schwind said. “I wanted to convey those thoughts through the book and particularly to people who are collectors or historians who weren’t people who have served in the military. That’s really 85 to 90 percent of why I wrote the book, to say this medal that you’re holding in your hand is not just a collector’s item, this represents a person and the sacrifices they made for our country; to really convey the depth of what it represents and in particular the posthumous Purple Heart and what it meant as far as being the last tangible reminder of someone’s life on earth.”
In the course of his research, Schwind conducted interviews and photographed more than 1,700 Purple Hearts held by museums, historians and collectors and Gold Star families.
“As a historian, it was really amazing,” Schwind said. “Being able to go and share with the families the stories of what their family member had done during the war, what they had done to earn these awards, that was the emotional part of it. A number of times families teared up… the stories had been lost and I was able to convey to the families that what their family member did was literally heroic and, in some cases, it put a new respect for their dad’s, uncle’s or grandfather’s lives. That to me was worth everything I invested in writing the book.”
Retiring from the Navy in Norfolk on April 30, Schwind is currently working on a companion volume on posthumous Purple Heart Medals awarded post-Second World War.
“I honestly had enough Purple Hearts from the Second World War to do several volumes just from the Second World War, but it’s one of those things where time and money and everything else competes,” Schwind said. “That was tough because there were some really good stories that I wanted to include and unfortunately I just didn’t have room for them.
“Then what I decided to do was a second volume with the stories of men and women who have given their lives for our country from the Korean War all the way to the current Global War on Terror with Afghanistan, Iraq and quite a few in-between.”
The in-person interviews with recently bereaved families are the most poignant, Schwind said.
“The amount of emotion that goes with those is something that you just can’t effectively convey,” Schwind said. “I’ve talked to a lot of families and I‘ve seen a lot of tears. They’ve been telling me the story of their loved one and it’s made me have an even deeper appreciation for what I’m writing about and made me want to honor them even more. It really drives home the importance of what the medal represents.”
DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.