COLORADO SPRINGS — Janice Kaylor never got to meet her hero dad, Private First Class David Beltz. "He was killed May 29th, 1951," Kaylor said.
The 19-year-old Marine was killed in Korea when Kaylor's mom was pregnant with her. Kaylor's parents were married just four months before.
"My dad was so kind and he was a little goofball, I guess that’s where I get my sense of humor," Kaylor said, "(My mom) was so kind and quiet and they got together, they got married, and here I am."
Kaylor's father was awarded the Purple Heart, a medal given to the military wounded or killed in action. She says it was stolen years later.
"I tried to get it back but I couldn’t and I just figured it was gone for good," said Kaylor.
Then Grant Winger, Executive Director of the Colorado Springs-based non-profit Fresh Start Center, got involved. A client of their food pantry recently turned it over to him, wanting to figure out who it belonged to.
"People come here for all sorts of different needs but when this came up it was just so different and intriguing," Winger said. "It was a different challenge. It was going to be fun to go through and see how we can get this back to where we are supposed to be."
Winger made some calls and searched the internet coming across this article about a Marine with the same name on the back of the medal.
"I reached out to the author of the article and said, 'Hey, it sounds like you may know the people that are in this family, could you put me in contact with the daughter?' and she said, 'Well that’s my sister.' I said, 'That’s perfect I’ve got something for her. I’ve actually got her dad’s Purple Heart.'"
"I'm really grateful to have it back and I believe God had a hand in this," Kaylor said.
Turns out Kaylor's son, Donald Mericle, has one, too, and a Bronze Star. The former Army staff sergeant was deployed in Iraq when the infantry tank he was riding in drove over an IED.
"Thank God he came home," Kaylor said.
Mericle says he's just grateful he's alive.
"I’m the fortunate one that I'm back here but a lot of people never came back," Mericle said.
Just like his grandfather, Private Beltz, who gave his life for the country he loved.
"I'm ready to go to heaven whenever the Lord is ready," said Kaylor. "I’m not going to be upset because I want to meet my dad."
Their family has deep ties to the military. Kaylor's cousins were young children when they attended her father's funeral in 1951. Both were so impacted by his death they eventually decided to go into the Marines.
This story was first reported by Dianne Derby at KOAA in Colorado Springs.