SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois State Treasurer’s Office has returned a Purple Heart to the recipient’s family members.
Army Specialist Kenneth Wiest received the Purple Heart for his service in the Vietnam War, which included injuries suffered taking enemy fire while inside a helicopter, Treasurer Michael Frerichs said. Wiest also received a pair of Gulf War service medals for his participation in Operation Desert Storm.
Both the Purple Heart and Gulf War medals were left in a safe deposit box that had been turned over to the treasurer’s office in 2019.
Frerichs returned the medals to Wiest’s children during a special ceremony at the state capitol on Sunday.
“Army Specialist Wiest served his country, and it is our duty to honor this soldier no matter how many years have passed,” Frerichs said during a somber ceremony in Springfield with Mr. Wiest’s children.
Wiest was born in Kelly Township, Pennsylvania, on July 28, 1950. Wiest’s family moved to O’Fallon while he was a child. He graduated from Mascoutah High School in 1968, entered the Army, and was deployed to Vietnam.
Wiest died on Sept. 4, 1998. He was 48.
“Dad was a good soldier, a loyal friend and dedicated father,” said Andrea Wiest Schone, the youngest of Wiest’s four children. “My brother and sisters are grateful to have these medals that honor his legacy.”
Since 2021, the treasurer’s office has sought to return 11 Purple Heart medals to their rightful owners. Each medal was found inside an abandoned bank safe deposit box.
Frerichs said military medals are extraordinarily difficult to return to families because neither the Armed Forces nor the federal government keeps comprehensive records on recipients. As such, it’s unclear when any of the Purple Heart medals in the state’s custody were earned or awarded.