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Oregon Wants To Reunite Veterans With Their Missing Medals

<p>The military medals in state custody include ones from World War II, the Vietnam War, and a Purple Heart.</p>

Courtesy of the Oregon Department of State Lands

The military medals in state custody include ones from World War II, the Vietnam War, and a Purple Heart.

An Oregon agency wants to reunite veterans or their heirs with military medals now in state custody.

The Oregon Department of State Lands is the guardian of  – about $600 million worth. “Could be money,” said Claudia Ciobanu, Oregon’s unclaimed property administrator. “Could be gift certificates that were not used. Could be stocks and bonds. Could be safe deposit boxes.”

Could be military medals.

Ciobanu said institutions such as hospitals, banks, law firms and retirement homes send in about 1,000 abandoned safe deposit boxes every year. The owners may have died or stopped paying rent. Those boxes sometimes contain military medals.

“We have several World War II campaign medals. We have a Vietnam War campaign medal and then a good conduct medal. There’s a Purple Heart in there, and then several other pins, ribbons, and other insignia,” she said.

In honor of Veterans’ Day, the state is reminding people that they can see these medals online and possibly claim them. You might even spot your relative's name, as the department lists the owners of the orphaned safe deposit boxes.

A new Oregon law ensures that the Department of State Lands won’t sell or destroy military medals. If the department can’t find the service member who earned a medal, or their heir, the law allows it to entrust military medals to a custodian, such as a veterans’ organization.

Other unclaimed tangible property in Oregon eventually gets auctioned off or destroyed if no owner or heir can be found.

Administrator Claudia Ciobanu said unclaimed property speaks to her heart.

That’s not only because the state holds hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of financial assets in perpetuity until an owner or heir appears. It’s because those assets are held in trust in the Common School Fund, so the money they earn gets distributed to K-12 schools.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kate Davidson is OPB’s business and economics reporter. Before moving to Oregon, she was a regular contributor to "Marketplace", a reporter at Michigan Radio focused on economic change in the industrial Midwest and a producer at NPR.