It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime story last March when research done by Bakersfield High School students resulted in the return of a Purple Heart to the family of a sailor killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Turns out it wasn't even a once-a-year event. Teacher Ken Hooper's students have done it again less than two months later.
In a short ceremony held Tuesday at the Kern Veterans Memorial in downtown Bakersfield, a Purple Heart that years ago had been pawned at a shop in Tulare County was returned to the surviving family of its recipient.
"It means a lot to us to have this medal come back to where it belongs," said Visalia resident Susanne Monroe, who attended the event with her sister, Rosellen Miner and their cousin, Linda Newman.
The three are surviving nieces of Army Pfc. Norval A. Monroe, who was killed in action on Aug. 27, 1944 in Nazi-occupied France.
"It's unbelievable," said Newman. "When Susanne called me and told me it had been found, I thought, 'Oh, this is wonderful.'"
The medal had remained with various family members for years following Norval's death, but at some point it was lost. It's unclear exactly what happened, but in 2006, Vietnam combat veteran Art Boehning was in the now defunct Tulare Jewelry & Loan when something caught his eye.
"This kid comes in to sell a Purple Heart," Boehning recalled.
The young man said he found it in a dumpster next to an urn filled with ashes.
The store owner purchased the medal, and Boehning immediately purchased it from the store, though he doesn't remember what he paid. Ultimately, Boehning gave the medal to Andy Wahrenbrock, a fellow combat veteran who had a long association with the Kern Veterans Memorial Foundation.
When the two heard about the success Hooper's archiving students had had in tracking down the previous family of a Purple heart recipient, Wahrenbrock went to Hooper for help.
This time he put one of his best students on the job, 17-year-old Jenna Sims.
"I started searching online," Sims said. We found his grave listing, the date of his death, what infantry (unit) he was in."
But it wasn't enough.
"Jenna needed a copy of the Tulare Community War Album of World War II to read an obituary and track next of kin," Hooper said. "The book was only available offline, so a letter, including two dollars and a self-addressed stamped envelope, was sent to the Sequoia Genealogical Society."
That information was enough to allow Hooper to reach the Monroe family.
"It's special that the kids have an interest in archiving and the sense of history that comes with that," Monroe said.
For Sims, solving this mystery is something she'll not likely forget.
"It makes me happy," she said, "that I could do something important for this family."