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Cape Cod VFW returns medals to family of Marine killed at Guadalcanal

When it came time to sell the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Hyannis this year, the service organization sought to honor fallen service members by presenting their families with the medals, ribbons, and ceremonial flags that had graced the post’s walls.

But finding the family of one — Private First Class Dennis Thomas, believed to be the first West Barnstable native to die in World War II — proved to be a challenge.

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Thomas, a Marine, was 22 when he was killed in the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. The Navy Cross and Purple Heart awarded for his bravery had been on display at the VFW since 1989.

Arlene Stoker, the former president of the VFW’s Ladies Auxiliary, enlisted the help of her son, Chris Huntington, to find Thomas’s relatives.

Huntington, who is 50 and lives in Centerville, works for NStar and he remembered that three Thomas brothers had worked for the electric company in past years.

“I tracked them down through word of mouth,” said Huntington, whose quest was first reported by the Cape Cod Times.

He learned that Thomas’s nephew, Robert Thomas, lived in Hyannis. Huntington decided to surprise Thomas with the medals on Veterans Day. Robert Thomas, 81, also served in the Marine Corps.

‘He was quite thrilled to get the stuff back. He just assumed it was lost.’

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“He was quite thrilled to get the stuff back,” Huntington said. “He just assumed it was lost.”

Thomas said he had only heard stories of the medals, and that his uncle was one of his inspirations to become a Marine.

“He stopped by the house and it all started . . . to my surprise,” Thomas said of Huntington. He plans to hang the framed medals in his home.

“It was a very symbolic day and the right thing to do on Veterans Day,” Huntington said.

Melissa Hanson can be reached at melissa.hanson@globe.com or on Twitter @Melissa__Hanson
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