Purple Heart given away at Maricopa tattoo shop to be returned to family of WWII veteran

A Purple Heart medal that belongs to a World War II soldier is finally making its way back to his family after spending years here in Arizona.

Navy veteran Clay Darling went missing in action after being lost at sea while serving on the USS Randolph.

"He was shot down over Kure Harbor in Japan…six days before the bombing of Hiroshima," said veteran Jim Bussey. "He was missing in action, he’s never been recovered, and basically, we’re trying to help him find his way home."

Darling's Purple Heart made it into the hands of tattoo artist Nick Sanchez 23 years ago.

"I did some artwork for this gentleman and when it came time for payment, he said, ‘I don’t have money but I have this medal,’ " Sanchez said. "I looked at it and thought it was pretty cool and thought it was a piece of history so I just took it."

Sanchez decided to keep it inside his tattoo shop in Maricopa, and that's when his receptionist, Ruth Strickengloss, found it.

"I said, ‘Nick, why do you have this?’ and he told me his story and I said, ‘You know we need to get this back to the family,’ " Strickengloss explained.

Strickengloss is a Navy veteran herself, so she reached out to fellow veterans for help.

They found Clay Darling's nephew, who lives in Bristol, Vermont. Now, two commanders of the American Legion are able to pass along the Purple Heart to the Darling family.

"This is who we are, so it’s very important that this gets to his family," said Bryan Moore, commander of American Legion Post 133 in Maricopa.

"I’ve done a lot of unique things but this has got to be near the top," said Ron LaRose, commander of American Legion Post 19 in Bristol. "I can bring a metal deservingly presented to a veteran, I can bring it to his family members that are still living in our community."

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