The son and granddaughter of a Buffalo man killed in World War II are scheduled to receive the certificate from his Purple Heart medal on national television Tuesday.
A man they have never met tracked them down after being outraged when he spotted the certificate being offered for sale at a flea market in North Carolina.
"I was speechless," Mary Burns of Statesville, N.C., recalled of the phone call she received from Julian Papp of West Nyack, saying he had the Purple Heart certificate of her grandfather, Cpl. Basil Burns Jr.
Burns was killed in action in North Africa on May 1, 1943.
Somehow the certificate -- which was framed in a Buffalo art shop -- ended up in a North Carolina flea market, remarkably less than an hour's drive from where Mary Burns lives with her father, John Burns.
"Perhaps it was trying to find it's way home," she said.
Papp is scheduled to turn over the certificate to the Burnses during an appearance on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday. Details were still being worked out, according to Gil Reisfield, a producer for the show.
Papp contacted the network in the hopes that national publicity will lead to finding the Purple Heart medal, which could have Burns' name engraved on the back.
Papp's quest to reunite certificate and family was the subject of a Buffalo News story Jan. 27, after Papp sought help tracking down any survivors.
He received eight or nine calls from Western New York residents. The most helpful was Ed Kornowski, an amateur genealogist, who found an obituary on the soldier and sent it to Papp. The obituary contained information on survivors, including the fact Burns had a son by a previous marriage.
Burns hired a national search firm and was supplied with a list of 265 John Burnses of the approximate age the son would be now.
He started making a few calls a day and got lucky after only a few days and reached Mary Burns.
John Burns, 66, is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease but said he is looking forward to getting the certificate and meeting Papp.
"My daddy gave his life for his country, and this (having the certificate back in family hands) is how it should be," he said.
He said his parents were divorced when he was a boy, and he moved with his mother to Pennsylvania.
Papp said he has learned from the operator of the flea market that the certificate was purchased at a yard sale somewhere in upstate New York by a friend of the woman operating the stand.
He could only speculate that it no longer had any meaning to the family.
Mary Burns said she is impressed by the time, effort and expense Papp has gone to.
"He must be a very caring person; I'm looking forward to meeting him," she said.
Papp, 38, who has a computer software business and was turned down for health reasons when he tried to join the Navy, said, "I don't really know why I did it. I guess because no one else would. I just felt it belonged with the family.
"When you can be of assistance to someone else, why not?"