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WWI medal traced to Mass. family

Fla. man makes plans to return it

Clara Malinowski will get her brother-in-law’s medal later this month.

Gretchen Ertl for the Boston Globe

Clara Malinowski will get her brother-in-law’s medal later this month.

A World War I medal, found among piles of yard-sale junk in a Rhode Island home, will soon be returned to the family of its owner in North Attleborough.

The medal, local history buffs and family agree, belonged to the late Harry Malinowski and will be given this month to his sister-in-law, Clara Malinowski, 90, who has lived in North Attleborough for 56 years.

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“A lot of the time you have to search and search for these kinds of things, but I was shocked when all the pieces fell together,” Malinowski said Tuesday. “And now part of his life is coming back to us.”

Florida resident Peter Iacovone, 61, stumbled on the brass medallion — strung on a red, white, and blue ribbon and tucked in a box dated July 4, 1919 — when he was cleaning out his late father’s home in Cumberland, R.I., last year.

GRETCHEN ERTL FOR THE GLOBE

The medal.

“My father was a junk picker, yard-sale collector kind of guy,” Iacovone said. He suspects Domenic Iacovone picked up the medal, given as a homecoming honor to returning veterans, during one of his scavenging trips.

“Where he got it? I don’t have a clue. Collecting junk was his hobby, even obsession,” he said.

Engraved on the medal’s front, around the silhouette of a female with angel wings, are the words “justice,” “liberty,” “peace,” and “honor.”

The reverse side, Iacovone noticed, was engraved with the North Attleborough town crest and a worn inscription under the words “Presented To.” The inscription was too tiny and faded to be discerned by eye, so Iacovone tried a magnifying glass, and then took it to the local jeweler, to make it out: “H. Malinowski.”

Iacovone said he embarked on a quest to return the medal.

“The medal’s definitely got the cool factor. I wanted to put a piece of history back where it belonged,” he said.

He turned to the Yellow Pages and called Clara Malinowski.

She suspected that the medal belonged to Harry, the brother of her late husband, Albert, but she “couldn’t be sure.” She recruited Bob Lanpher of the North Attleborough Historical Society to connect the dots.

Lanpher, an antiques dealer, had acquired a similar WWI medal given to a local nurse and had a photograph of North Attleborough’s July Fourth parade in 1919, when the medals had been bestowed on returning veterans.

“Many towns in Massachusetts issued these welcome-home medals, and this may be the only one created by the L.G Balfour Company, based in Attleboro,” he said. He believes that more than 450 medals were awarded to men and women returning to North Attleborough from the war.

“I looked on the town’s World War I memorial in Veterans Park, but there was only one Malinowski listed, and that was a Theodore,” one of Harry and Albert’s brothers, Lanpher said.

Harry Malinowski did not show up in military service records, either, though he was issued a draft card, Lanpher added.

That’s because the wartime experience was a short one.

“Harry was lucky — he had only gotten as far as the railroad station before the armistice was signed,” Clara Malinowski said.

He worked as a jewelry designer in the town for the rest of his life. He died in 1994, at age 97.

“I wish [Harry] could be here to receive the medal himself, but I’m excited to get it back for him, knowing it was something he was supposed to have,” Malinowski said.

She will meet the Iacovone family later this month at the North Attleborough World War I memorial to receive the medal. She plans to donate it to the Falls Fire Barn Museum, which houses the town’s historical relics.

Military service runs in both families: Iacovone’s father, like Clara Malinowski’s husband, had served in World War II. Clara’s father had served on the front lines in Germany and France during World War I.

“Finding this medal got me thinking about my father,” Iacovone said. “If he had lost one of his medals, I’d think I’d like to get it back, too.”

Alyssa A. Botelho can be reached at alyssa.botelho@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AlyssaABotelho.
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