Oregon works to return unclaimed veterans medals


18 military medals being held at the Oregon Department of State Lands

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Carolyn Harris is in charge of keeping every piece of lost treasure safe inside a small room at the Oregon Department of State Lands in Salem as she works to find each individual owner.

Harris told KOIN 6 News most of the items come from safe deposit boxes that were handed over to the state from either a bank, hospital, assisted living facility or law office.

The Department of State Lands spends 2 years searching for the owners or their heir. But if they have no luck, the belongings are sold at auction but the money is held indefinitely for the owner.

There are coins, jewelry, baseball cards, sports memorabilia, even “a stamp collection of Marilyn Monroe,” Harris said.

But there are some items they will never sell — unclaimed military medals.

Photos: Unclaimed military medals in Oregon

Harris, who spent 8 years in the US Army, said the State Lands Department currently has 18 medals earned by men who fought in Vietnam or World War 2. One of those medals is a Purple Heart.

“I would love to return it to the person’s family,” she said.

Oregon state law requires every unclaimed military medal be preserved until it’s reunited with the veteran who sacrificed and earned it, or that person’s heir.

Harris said the department has reached out to each veteran or their family members about the 18 military medals but has so far only received one response.

The Oregon Department of State Lands holds more than $600 million in unclaimed property.

The money that comes in goes into the Common School Fund for Oregon. Any interest that’s earned from the unclaimed property goes back to the schools, which get some funds twice a year.

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