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Purple Heart to be returned to family of World War II Navy sailor from Dorchester

Hugh Farren, a Dorchester man originally from County Donegal, Ireland, was killed in action while serving in the Navy in the Pacific Ocean in 1944.Boston Globe Archives

The mystery of a lost Purple Heart awarded to a Dorchester sailor killed in World War II appears to be solved, after the family of Hugh Farren reached out to the Attleboro veterans director to have the medal returned to them, they said Thursday.

Farren’s relatives said they are preparing to reclaim the Purple Heart, awarded after Farren died while serving in the US Navy in the Pacific in 1944, they said.

George Kent of Norwood grew up hearing about his late grand-uncle from his grandmother, Helen Doherty, Farren’s older sister. She had possession of the medal, and the family believes it was stolen from her home many years ago.

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He said he had heard the medal had been recovered from “the news, just like everybody else. We got a bunch of phone calls this morning.”

“It was a big surprise this morning, to be honest with you,” he said by telephone Thursday evening.

The family learned of the medal after Attleboro Veterans Services Director Ben Quelle told media outlets, including WCVB-TV, that someone had turned over the medal bearing the name Hugh Farren to his office. Quelle had sought Farren’s family but been unable to find them.

“This is actually probably one of the more difficult mysteries to solve, because I’m just running into dead ends every time,” Farren told the station in an interview broadcast Wednesday

He did not respond to a request for comment from the Globe Thursday evening.

Kent said his grandmother held a deep pride for her brother, an immigrant from Ireland. He remembers attending the dedication of the Hugh Farren Pedestrian Overpass in Dorchester in 1962.

The family’s tentative plan is to send the medal to the village of Malin Head in County Donegal, Ireland, where Farren grew up and where relatives still own a local pub, Farren’s Bar, according to Kent and David Hiltz, whose wife, Nancy, is the daughter of Helen Doherty.

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“My wife was happy that it had been found, because she knows how important it was to her mother, and to her,” said Hiltz, 81, of Canton, in a phone interview.

The family believes the medal was stolen by a neighbor of Helen Doherty, probably decades ago when her home was burglarized and a diamond ring and cash were also taken, Hiltz said.

He said his wife had been born the year before her uncle’s death, so she had never known him except through family stories.

“My mother-in-law, Nancy’s mother, she was pretty proud of him, and she talked about him all the time,” he said.

Nancy Hiltz’s older brother, James, had spent time with their uncle in his childhood and later followed him into service in the Navy, serving during the Korean War.

James did not live to see the return of the Purple Heart, David Hiltz said.

“She wishes that her brother was here, because she knows it would have a lot more meaning for him than it does for her,” he said, emotion overtaking his voice.

Hiltz said he expects the medal to be presented to the family at a ceremony on Veterans Day in November, and then “my wife will see to it that it gets to the family in Malin Head, Donegal.”

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Relatives in Malin Head have offered to display the Purple Heart in the family pub, symbolically returning Farren to his homeland, he said.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.