Purple Heart, military records reunited with deceased Vietnam veteran’s sister in Knoxville

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Purple Heart ribbon, awards and military records of a deceased Vietnam veteran thought to be forgotten and discarded have been reunited with the Marine’s family.

David Brackins received the ribbon for debilitating injuries in Vietnam more than 50 years ago. Shirley Dellinger is pleased that her late brother’s Purple Heart ribbon in back with the family.

“I’m sure he would be pleased, well pleased,” Dellinger said of the discovered lost medals and records, “He fought and he was wounded and came home in bad shape. So, I just want to make sure that they remember him.”

Dellinger says David was married in the late 1960s. Brackins and his wife had a daughter, but the couple divorced. Brackins died 10 years ago of a heart attack.

A cardboard box containing Sgt. Brackins’ military belongings was recently given to Johnny Cardwell, the commander of the local Military Order of Purple Heart, Chapter 356.

The personal items were found after an auction at an abandoned storage unit in Lenoir City, but at the time, no one knew how to locate any of Brackins’ family.

“He was a combat-wounded veteran, like myself,” Cardwell said. “The family deserves to have this Purple Heart certificate.”

His official retirement certificate from the Marine Corps was also found in the box, but it’s the Purple Heart that Cardwell was passionate about.

“That represents that he left his DNA, or blood samples on the battle ground, for the United States of America,” Caldwell said.

One poignant personal memento was this hand written letter from then-retired Sgt. Brackins to his daughter.

“It was an August day when I got the joy of my life,” the letter states. “When she was born it gave me life. I had just come back from the war where I had taken lives. As my little girl grew older and her love for me grew strong, I knew that I would always have my little girl’s love. She is the reason I’m living today. I still hear her saying Daddy, I love you.”

Unfortunately, the family doesn’t know where David’s daughter is today.

A week ago, Johnny Cardwell went to the state Veterans’ Services office in Knoxville and dropped off the box with Brackins’ belongings. Within several days, the director of the office contacted Dellinger.

“He said, ‘Do you have, did you have a brother named David Ray Brackins?’,” Shirley recalled. “I said, ‘I certainly did.’ He said, ‘Well, I have his Purple Heart and some of his other things.’ “He said, ‘Do you want it?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ “

Shirley is thankful to Commander Cardwell for his kindness and passion. She’s also grateful to the Veterans Services office for finding her.

“I appreciate it, I really do,” Dellinger said. “You don’t know how much it means to me.”

Brackins personal military records, and his discharge papers, Department of Defense Form 214. were also inside the cardboard box. The records and awards are now safe in the hands of his sister, David’s sole surviving sibling.

Shirley told us the family called David “Duke.” That’s the nickname also given to actor John Wayne. She said her brother was known locally for his wood carvings and he was a popular uncle of his nieces and nephews.

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