Finding Private Bolles: Unclaimed Purple Heart

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- In the basement of the Pennsylvania State Treasury in Harrisburg, one of the nation's largest safes holds a treasure of unclaimed property.

There are millions of dollars worth of jewelry, rare coins and bills and other collectibles but items in the glass case are priceless.

"Behind every one of these medals is a story of patriotism and service and sacrifice," said Joe Torsella, Pennsylvania State Treasurer.

You can find bronze stars and war campaign medals that came as unclaimed property to Harrisburg from safety deposit boxes at banks that closed out accounts.

There are 10 Purple Hearts given to those in the military, wounded or killed in war.

One of the Purple Hearts came to Harrisburg from a bank in Scranton 12 years ago and state treasury workers were still looking for its owner.

"And we do have a name. A name of John Bolles," said Torsella. "There is nothing we would like better than for this to be in the hands of the people in the family to whom it would mean the most."

Newswatch 16 Investigates found out how hard that was.

We found the John Bolles we were looking for was from Susquehanna County but six weeks of searching led Newswatch 16 only to a World War II veteran who was never awarded a Purple Heart.

But earlier this month, the head of Susquehanna County's Veteran's Affairs Office remembered a county worker with relatives named Bolles.

Her response: "That's my uncle."

That brought Newswatch 16 to southern New York state.

It's where John Bolles two sons live now. They were just kids living in Susquehanna County when they last saw their father's Purple Heart.

"I know it's been 30 years since I have seen it and it's probably closer to 40," said John Bolles of Hamilton, New York.

"Disbelief at first, it can't be possible," said Michael Bolles of Binghamton, New York.

John Bolles died in 1996 but to his family, the Purple Heart represents a sacrifice most don't understand.

Bolles dropped out of Blue Ridge High School in Susquehanna County and joined the Army in 1949. He was just 17.

His son's say he fought in some of the bloodiest battles in the Korean War.

Early in his service he was injured in a mortar attack and carried shrapnel in his arms and legs.

"He was a completely different person coming back then he was before," said John.

"He was a troubled man and I believe it was from his time in the war," said Michael.

The Bolles brothers say their dad's time after the war was a struggle.

His grandson Kyle barely knew his grandfather but he thinks he knows why the Purple Heart ended up in a bank.

"I'm assuming it was in a safety deposit box because he didn't want to look at it. I don't know if it brought him grief but he didn't want to get rid of it. He wanted it someplace close," said Kyle Bolles.

The Bolles brothers say that's understandable for volunteered to serve.

Someone later saw combat and who struggled after experiencing the horrors and wounds from war at the age of 17 and that too is what the late John Bolles' Purple Heart represents.

"I know the war haunted dad, and I know what he went through to get that and whether he said anything or not I know it meant a lot to him," said John.

"I believe he suffered in silence all of his life from what we now know as PTSD," said Michael. "With all the adversity he had in his life, I do not ever recall him complaining."

When the Bolles brothers finish the paperwork to claim the medal and it gets final approval, State Treasurer Joe Torsella plans to meet John Bolles' sons in Susquehanna County and bring his Purple Heart back to his family.

1 Comment

  • AMJoy Fan

    A few years back award winning TV host Chris Hayes who said that treating soldiers as heroes makes him uncomfortable because it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. I wonder if these types of things celebrate the same toxic masculinity causing school shootings. That really is something to think about. Plus, the way Trump is headed with Korea, we are going to have another Koren War!

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