Oregon WWII sailor’s Purple Heart finally comes home to his family

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At Tigard American Legion Post 158, Karen Grange of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Auxiliary (right) prepares to present Ellen Sedell, a cousin of a WWII Navy sailor killed in battle, with his Purple Heart. From left are Earl and Samantha Perry of Klamath Falls American Legion Post 8, who drove the Purple Heart to Tigard. Barbara Sherman/Tigard Life
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On Friday, Nov. 13, 1942, a teenage Navy sailor from Oregon was aboard a destroyer, the USS Laffey, in the Philippines during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. At the height of the battle, the Laffey came under fire from four Japanese ships and was finally torpedoed in her fantail, putting her out of action.

Ellen Sedell holds a U.S. flag and the Purple Heart awarded posthumously to her cousin, Dale Robert Hoeye, who died in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. She was the first family member found and was presented with the Purple Heart on Flag Day. Barbara Sherman/Tigard Life

An order was given to abandon ship just before a violent explosion ripped her apart, and she sank immediately. However, before sinking, her crew of 245 men severely damaged one Japanese battleship and sank one cruiser and two destroyers, but they paid a heavy price as they suffered 59 casualties.

The young sailor from Oregon, Dale Robert Hoeye, was among the casualties, and in a full-circle moment, his long-lost posthumously-awarded Purple Heart was presented to his first cousin, Ellen Sedell, in an emotional ceremony at Tigard American Legion Post 158 on June 23.

Dale’s Purple Heart came home thanks to several people doing extensive research and making connections along with help from Ancestry.com. Dale was born Jan. 18, 1925, in Pendleton to Dean and Dorothy Hoeye and enlisted in the Navy on Jan. 27, 1942, just after turning 17, and it took a lot of detective work to find his relatives.

The effort to return his Purple Heart went statewide and included Karen Grange of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Auxiliary, who was mistress of ceremonies at the American Legion event. “Dale lost his life at Guadalcanal, and his body was never recovered,” she said at the ceremony. “No one can thank him for his service, so that is why I’m here and why I think all of you are here. I hope we make Dale proud. We don’t know how Dale was honored, so this is our tribute to him.”

Members of Summerfield’s Encore singing group, led by Mel Simrell (right), sang the national anthem before the Purple Heart presentation ceremony. Barbara Sherman/Tigard Life

Also key to the effort was Samantha Perry, finance officer at American Legion Post 8 in Klamath Falls, who with her husband Earl Perry drove Dale’s Purple Heart to Tigard for the ceremony. According to Samantha Perry, probably decades ago someone found Dale’s Purple Heart at the Klamath Falls YMCA and turned it over to the American Legion post.

“Our post was incorporated in 1921, and there was an old safe in the building, where someone placed the Purple Heart,” Perry said at the ceremony. “It has probably been there at least 55 years. We were doing some remodeling and had to move the safe. We opened it, and there was the Purple Heart. I did a social media blast on Facebook to see if we could find his next of kin and return the Purple Heart.”

Perry also sent out an email to American Legion posts, and a friend of Grange’s saw it and forwarded it to her. The efforts led to Dale’s first cousin Sedell getting a message on Ancestry.com that she was related to a Purple Heart recipient, and the rest is history.

Sedell came to the podium, where Grange handed her a folded American flag, which are presented to veterans’ next of kin to honor the memory of their military service, and Dale’s Purple Heart.

Dale Alan Hoeye (left), the namesake of Dale Robert Hoeye, and his son Brian (center) are presented with Dale Robert’s Purple Heart and U.S. flag by Gary Grange, a Purple Heart recipient and the husband of Karen Grange, who was mistress of ceremony at the presentation of Dale Robert’s Purple Heart at Tigard American Legion Post 158. Courtesy or Karen Grange

“I am overwhelmed by this honor and do not deserve it,” said Sedell. “It took many pieces coming together to put this together. This is way more of an honor than I was ever expecting.”

Sedell explained that she and Dale shared the same grandparents, but he was born 20 years before her, so he died before she was born. “I grew up in Mill City in the North Santiam Canyon, and I heard family members talk about Dale,” she said.

Next Sedell received a commemorative coin from a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, who attended the ceremony and posted and retired the colors.

Sedell pledged to work to have Dale memorialized in the Fox Valley Cemetery in Lyons and Willamette National Cemetery in Portland. She added that Dale is memorialized at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines. They have the largest number of WWII American military dead with 16,859 graves plus the Tablets of the Missing, which are piers inscribed with 36,286 names, including Dale’s.

At the American Legion event, Summerfield’s Encore singing group sang the national anthem at the beginning of the ceremony, and “Taps” was played at the end. Also in attendance were Keith Witnebel, Oregon Department Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart; Larry Rupp, Region III Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart; and members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Auxiliary, and the Tigard and Klamath Falls American Legion posts.

Dale had a younger brother Wesley and a sister named Delores. No one knows what happened to Delores, but when Wesley grew up and married, he named his son Dale Alan Hoeye after his late brother. 

Grange reported that following the ceremony, she was able to connect with Dale Alan and his son Brian, and on July 1, she and her husband Gary, a Purple Heart recipient, presented them with Dale’s U.S. flag and Purple Heart.

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