Several years ago, a student in Macungie, Pa., brought his social studies teacher a box of military medals, which included a Purple Heart, that he uncovered in his backyard while using a metal detector. The teacher passed the box on to Keegan Nytz of Allentown, the son of Army veteran and Legionnaire Michael Nytz, who took it upon himself to research who the Purple Heart belonged to in an effort to reunite the medal with a living relative. “I knew how much it would mean to the family,” said 16-year-old Keegan.
With the name Rodney D. Beckel engraved on the Purple Heart, Keegan found information online about his military career.
At 25 years old, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Beckel served in World War II and was wounded in the Philippines. He went on to serve as a flight commander of his squadron until his plane was hit by enemy fire and crashed on the Japanese airbase Clark Field; he was listed as missing in action. Besides the Purple Heart, Beckel also was awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Beckel left behind a wife, Gloria, and a son, Rodney Jr., who Keegan discovered had both passed away in 2002 and 2000, respectively. However, through Gloria’s obituary, Keegan discovered she had two daughters from a second marriage and called the one who lived near him, Wanda Pitosky.
When Keegan called Pitosky to share his findings, which were uncovered at the home her family once resided in, he said her initial reaction was “absolute shock and disbelief” and she cried. The two met within a week of their phone conversation and Michael was there to watch his son reveal the lost treasure.
“I watched him meet her, shake her hand, discuss what he did, heard him ask her questions and connect the dots of the mystery of the journey the awards had taken. I was very proud of him,” said Michael, a member of Legion Post 945. “The medals that 1st Lt. Rodney Beckel earned took an interesting 72-year journey from the time they were issued to the time they made their way home to one of his relatives. (Learn more here and here). Knowing my son played an important part in that journey was very special.”
For Keegan, reuniting the medals, especially the Purple Heart, to a living relative of Beckel’s was “amazing,” he said. “American history is important because it not only shapes us as Americans, but also the rest of the world. I like to focus on more than just us here in America, but the impact left on the rest of the world.”
As a father and a veteran, Michael said he is “very proud of Keegan’s efforts to research and find a living relative of a veteran who earned many of these military awards over 72 years ago. I hope Keegan’s actions inspire other people to do what he did which basically was to honor the sacrifices and service of a U.S. military veteran.”