By Sam Stites

Oregon Capital Bureau

The Oregon Department of State Lands put out a call ahead of Veterans Day on Monday to reunite families with military medals and artifacts that fell to the state’s care.

The medals and other possessions were left inside safe deposit boxes held by banks or assisted living facilities and law offices where their owners forgot about them or died without a will or known heir.

While most items that come into state custody in this way — photos, jewelry, baseball cards and more — are auctioned off to raise money for the state Common School Fund or destroyed after a period of time, military effects are protected under Oregon law in perpetuity.

A bank box rented to Richard Rolfe Scott of Portland yielded Army items that included 10 patches, seven ribbons, five medals, four rank and insignia, and three pins.

A box rented to Barbara G. Roney, of Portland, held four medals, four ribbons and two pins from the Army.

A box rented to George B. James of Bandon contained a Navy insignia.

The military medals program and corresponding registry is fairly new, according to Claudia Ciobanu, manager of the agency’s Trust Property Division.

While no veterans have been reunited with their property yet, the state hopes a fresh push will allow veterans or their heirs to more easily identify their property.

“The law was passed to manage these things differently in order to honor the courage and sacrifice that they represent. We recognize the history and symbolism behind these medals and want to do our best to return them to their owners,” Ciobanu said.

The list includes 18 medals, countless ribbons and dozens of insignia pieces from all branches of the U.S. military.

The military heirlooms have come into State Lands’ possession from a variety of places, from a defunct bank in Grants Pass to a Key Bank in Portland.

The oldest and most common medals in the state’s possession date back to World War II, including two for service in the European and African theaters from 1941-46 and a handful of WWII Victory Medals, as well as corresponding awards for service in the American and Asiatic-Pacific Campaigns during the same period.

Several National Defense Service Medals are included in the collection, as well as an Army Good Conduct Medal — one of the oldest American military awards established in 1869.

One Purple Heart is in the state’s possession, too, the oldest award continuously issued to those injured or killed in combat since its original form, the Badge of Military Merit, was awarded to members of President George Washington’s Continental Army. The medal was established in its current form in 1917.

The collection holds three medals issued for service during the Vietnam War, including one with three bronze stars denoting that its owner served three separate tours.

“Our veterans and their families have sacrificed so much, and these medals and insignia are physical representations of that sacrifice and their service,” said Vicki Walker, director of State Lands. “On this Veterans Day, we want to make a special push to help reunite vets and their families with these highly significant keepsakes.”

Veterans or family members seeking lost military medals can check the State Lands’ online registry (www.oregon.gov/dsl/Money/Pages/MilitaryMedals.aspx,) which includes information on what bank or institution the deposit box came from, to whom it was rented and the corresponding address of that person.

According to Ciobanu, the process can take as little as a couple weeks if the claimant is the owner, but much longer if an heir does not have proof of their relation to the original owner.

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