Series of 'investigations' leads to return of military medals
An emotional 'reunion' of sorts took place at the Wayne County Courthouse recently when Robert Hohenstein was on hand to receive the medals his brother, David, had earned while serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
The story of the medals spans 40 years and a number of twists and turns.
David E. Hohenstein of rural Ponca joined the military shortly after graduating from high school in 1969.
His older brother, Robert, was already serving in the Air Force and tried to discourage his brother from enlisting.
"David didn't want to go to college after high school and thought the military would be a way to see the world," Robert said.
While serving his country, David "took a grenade" when he was in Cambodia and crawled a long distance back to his camp. He suffered serious injuries to his leg and was hospitalized for more than eight months - first in Japan and then in Kansas.
For his efforts, he was awarded several medals, including the Purple Heart.
After being discharged from the army in January of 1971, David returned to the Ponca area and farmed with his brother, Robert.
On Aug. 3, 1977 David was killed in a truck accident in Sioux City, Iowa. He was 26 years old at the time and engaged to be married.
On the day of his funeral, his house was broken into and ransacked. His military medals, along with a number of guns, were stolen.
"We never did find out if anybody was caught for the robbery," Robert said.
The other side of the story involves a vehicle purchased in 1978 or 1979 by the Kay family of rural Wayne - Don, Rick and "Butch."
"I don't remember the exact time or a lot of the details, but I do know we bought a car that had a lot of 'junk' in it," Butch said.
Among the items were several military medals. The family did not recognize the name on the medals, but knew they should not be thrown away.
"Dad put them in a drawer and I think they were forgotten until we started cleaning out my parents' house," Butch said.
When they were found recently, Butch decided to try to find out who they belonged to. His search led him to Brad Wieland, Veterans Services Officer at the Wayne County Courthouse.
Wieland, himself a Vietnam veteran, recognized the medals as being Vietnam-era and began the task of tracking down their owner.
This led him to contacting Robert, who shared David's story.
Wieland arranged for Hohenstein and Kay to meet and share stories of the medals. Wieland and Hohenstein, who also served in the military in Vietnam, compared military experiences.
"I am just glad to have these back. My family never knew what had happened or why anyone would have wanted to steal them... they could have taken the guns, we didn't care about that, but what good were the medals?" Robert said.