WWII hero’s medals tossed in dumpster returned to family

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HICKORY, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE)– When World War II medals, photos, and letters were found tossed in a dumpster, it was a shock to everyone, including the family, who had no idea their dad was a war hero.

“He just wouldn’t talk about his service at all,” said Linda Delorey.

“Did you know he was a World War II hero?,” asked FOX 46 reporter Matt Grant.

“No,” said Delorey. “He wouldn’t talk about it.”

Memories were on the menu at the Olde Tavern in Hickory. Delorey drove more than an hour from her home in North Wilkesboro to meet the man who has been keeping her late father’s mementos safe.

“This is really a family treasure, said Delorey, flipping through a binder of old photographs and war documents.

This ‘house special’ was served with a side of gratitude and disbelief.

“This is just amazing to have this,” she said.    

American Legion Post 544 Commander Jeff Truitt has been keeping the items safe since they were found tossed in a dumpster.

“I’ve learned that you never know what a person has done in their life,” said Truitt.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Donald Helfer did a lot in his life. He joined the Navy during World War II as an aircraft engine mechanic. He completed nearly 30 flights into enemy territory and was awarded the Navy Flying Cross and the Bronze Star. He was recognized by President Harry Truman who thanked him in a letter for helping to “bring about the total defeat of the enemy” and offered the “heartfelt thanks of a grateful Nation.”

Helfer, who died in 1993, kept all of that a secret. His daughter only knew her dad as a police officer who took pride in helping others.

“So that’s why this is such a treasure to us,” she said of the mementos.

Only FOX 46 was there when Truitt returned a treasure trove of family history, which he neatly organized in a binder, back to its rightful home.

“It’s such a treasure for our family. It really is,” said Delorey.

“We’re more than happy,” said Truitt. “And we’re glad we could find who it belonged to.”

Delorey spotted her father in a group photo.

“I think it’s the one who’s not wearing his hat right,” she said, laughing. “He was a character.”

The binder now contains answers to questions she never knew to ask.

“This is filling in so many gaps,” she said.

She is also learning more about her family. A photo of her grandfather tucked inside the binder is the first time she ever saw his face.

“It’s the only picture of my grandfather I’ve ever seen,” she said, to disbelief from other members of the American Legion.

“Wow,” Truitt said.

Helfer, a humble hero, is now finally getting the recognition he deserves.

Delorey plans to bring the binder to upstate New York so other family members can share this experience.

“This guy was a hero in World War II,” said Truitt. “He was just one of millions who served and that’s his story that can be told forever now.”

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