World War I artifacts returned home to Richmond more than 100 years later

Military

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More than 100 years after the end of World War I, artifacts from two soldiers who served have been returned home to Richmond.

On Wednesday, Erin Faith Allen with Vermont-based nonprofit Purple Hearts Reunited visited Central Virginia to reunite several items belonging to veterans Sergeant William V. Archer and Captain Albert Richardson “Bert” Montague with historians and family.

“Oh my God,” local resident Bronwen Hall said. “Yeah, these are my grandpa’s.”

Thanks to the work of Purple Hearts Reunited, Hall held her grandfather’s field binoculars from World War I for the first time on Wednesday. Allen said that the nonprofit came to possess the binoculars when working with the daughter of a World War II veteran. Her father was a collector of historic items.

“We are uncertain about how he came into possession of these binoculars,” Allen said. “After his passing, the binoculars sat in one of his World War II trunks with all of his Army items, and we visited with his daughter for another project, and knowing of Purple Hearts Reunited and what we do, she gave us the binoculars and asked us to reunite them with the family.”

Hall said that she doesn’t own any photographs of her grandfather, nor does she remember information about his service. But she recalled visiting him and his wife in Chicago.

“I only have pictures in my mind,” Hall said. “They were special people. They were our only living grandparents.”

Hall’s grandfather, Cpt. Montague served with the 309th Engineers. Written on the case of the field binoculars he would have used was an address, which helped Purple Hearts Reunited connect Hall with the family artifact.

“I didn’t realize what a brutal, horrible war it was, and I’m so glad he made it through,” Hall said. “This means a lot to me. His name is right on the bottom. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that he wrote that and it lasted all these years?”

Earlier, in the day, Allen presented David Limmer with the Chesterfield Historical Society with several artifacts that belonged to Sgt. Archer, who served with the 117th Trench Mortar Battery, 42nd ‘Rainbow’ Division. Allen said that the nonprofit was unable to locate Archer’s family, but determined that Archer hailed from Chesterfield County. Previously, Purple Hearts Reunited had presented the Chesterfield Historical Society with Archer’s purple heart medal after he was wounded in battle, so Allen said that it made sense to keep the items together.

The items presented to the Chesterfield Historical Society on Wednesday included dog tags, an I.D. bracelet, crucifixes and French souvenir cards.

“We hope that people can recognize the humanity and the individual life that remains in items like these,” Allen said. “In Archer’s case, we, as of this moment, do not have a photograph of him, but his items can tell the story of a man who served and shed his blood for this country.”

Limmer said that these newly received artifacts will be added to the Chesterfield Historical Society’s collection, preserved, and used for future World War I exhibits.

“Receiving any historical items about people, places, artifacts from old buildings and so on is — we’re very thankful for it because it helps perpetuate and teach the public about our history,” he said.

According to a release, Purple Hearts Reunited has returned medals and artifacts to more than 850 families, museums and homes of honor, such as the Chesterfield Historical Society. Wednesday’s presentations were part of a mission to return the items of 13 World War I, World War II and Korean War veterans throughout Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland over the coming week.

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