When it came time to sell the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Hyannis this year, the service organization sought to honor fallen soldiers by presenting their families with the medals, ribbons, and ceremonial flags that graced the post’s walls.
Finding the family of one soldier, in particular, proved a challenge: Private First Class Dennis Thomas, believed to be the first West Barnstable native to die in World War II.
Thomas, a Marine, was 22 when he was killed in the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. The Navy Cross and Purple Heart he received for his bravery had been on display at the VFW since 1989.
The former president of the VFW’s Ladies Auxiliary, Arlene Stoker enlisted the help of her son, Chris Huntington, to find his relatives.
Huntington works for NStar and remembered that three Thomas brothers worked for the electric company in past years. Huntington realized this might be his opportunity.
“I tracked them down through word of mouth,” said Huntington, 50, of Centerville, whose quest was first reported by the Cape Cod Times.
He learned that Thomas’s nephew, Robert Thomas, lived in Hyannis. Huntington decided to surprise Thomas with the medals—on Veterans Day. Thomas also was a Marine.
“He was quite thrilled to get the stuff back,” Huntington said. “He just assumed it was lost in time.”
Thomas said he had only heard stories of the medals, and that his uncle was one of his inspirations to become a Marine.
“He stopped by the house and it all started ... to my surprise,” Thomas, 81, said of Huntington. He plans to hang the framed medals in his home.
“It was a very symbolic day and the right thing to do on Veterans Day,” Huntington said.Melissa Hanson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Melissa__Hanson