The year was 1996, the car a rusty old Ford station wagon loaned to a Wakefield couple, John and Debbie Benedetto, by a friend of theirs named Chester. He’s deceased now. So is the Ford.
When John and Debbie began cleaning out the car, in the back, among the empty oil cans and busted jumper cables, they found two small boxes containing four military medals: Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Air Medal, Vietnam Service Medal. Three medals bore the inscription “John F. Fitzgibbons.”
No service affiliation. No rank. No clue as to how or why they had wound up in an old junker Ford, a generation after the Vietnam War ended and America struggled to move on.
“I felt bad, you knew they belonged to somebody,” says John Benedetto, 64, sitting in his kitchen next to Debbie, 59, his wife of 27 years. “You don’t just throw those away.”
They put the medals in the office desk, figuring they would find the rightful owner — or his survivors — someday. That day would come 17 years later, in a selfless act of honoring a fallen soldier’s service that should make this July Fourth holiday one that the Benedetto and Fitzgibbons families will long remember.
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