Updated: Dec 22, 2022
A lost American Legion medal from the early 1900s has made its way home after being discovered in a donation box in Pine City.
How or why the medal was put in a coat donation box at the Pine City American Legion in November is unknown, but a dedicated group of locals made sure it made its way back to the family of the late Alex Pangerl.
The coat drive was put on by the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club to benefit homeless veterans.
Rocket, State President for the Club's Minnesota Chapter, said the medal was discovered while members were going through the donations to wash them. They weren't sure what to do with it, but they knew that it should not sit in a drawer somewhere gathering dust.
Photo of medal provided
"[The medal] for the square tower of Fort Snelling from back in the 1930s," Rocket told WCMP. "It represents the 40 & 8 club, which is a private organization within the American Legion."
According to the American Legion website, The 40 & 8 was started in 1920. American Servicemen who fought in France were transported to the battlefront in box cars that were about half the size of their American counterpart. They had 40/8 stenciled on the outside which denoted a capacity of 40 men or 8 horses.
Servicemembers used it as a "light-hearted symbol of the deeper service, sacrifice, and unspoken horrors of war that truly bind those who have borne the battle."
Tim Engstrom, Communications Director for the American Legion Department of Minnesota, said the 40 & 8 was an honor society within the American Legion that had its own rules and regulations. It had since split from the Legion into its own group for charitable acts.
According to Engstrom, the medal (pictured above) was given to Alex in 1939 during a Department convention that was held in Minneapolis in August of that year.
After the medal was found, Wendy Lindahl was then tasked with figuring out who it belonged to and how to get it home. "There was a post put on Facebook, and a couple of people reached out saying that they had an Alex Pangerl in their family history," Lindahl told WCMP.
She then set to work sifting through all the leads.
"I had to make phone calls to make sure we had the right family that it belonged to," said Lindahl.
Unfortunately for Lindahl, Alex Pangerl is a common name in the area, but through a process of elimination, they narrowed it down to two.
"One [Alex Pangerl] just recently passed away before Thanksgiving, but this was not his medal because of the dates on it," said Lindahl.
Early on in the process, Lindahl made contact with a Mary Smith, who was the granddaughter of the Alex Pangerl they determined received the medal.
When Lindahl said she was nervous to make the phone call to notify Mary that she believed they had her grandfather's long lost medal.
"I didn't want to get somebody excited about something that actually isn't theirs. There was a lot of research and a lot of talking to different people."
In her investigation, Lindahl discovered that Alex was born in 1894 and served 18 months, from March 1918 to October 1919, in the Army during the First World War. After he returned home, he married Mary Ann Youngbaur.
Alex then moved to the Twin Cities to work in a foundry before moving back to the area to help his dad rebuild a barn that had been destroyed by a tornado.
In 1923, Alex and Mary purchased a farm and officially settled down to raise a family. He later passed away in 1963 at the age of 69.
Looking back on the project, both Rocket and Wendy Lindahl were excited that the medal can finally make its way back home.
"A lot of times we give back to veterans that are still living," Rocket told WCMP. "It was fun to get to know a specific veteran who served so long ago."
"It's kind of exciting to be a part of this and find the right family it belongs to." Wendy said. "It was a lot of work, but if you find something like this, don't give up because there is somebody out there [looking for it]."
The medal will be officially returned to the family on Friday, December 16 during a ceremony at the Pine City American Legion.
Photo provided. Alex Pangerl, located on the left, served during World War One from 1918 to 1919.
The medal was returned to Mary Smith during a Ceremony at the American Legion in Pine City on Friday, December 16 at 6:00 p.m.
"I've got pictures of grandpa in his uniform, but I didn't know anything about a medal," Smith told WCMP.
When talking about Alex Pangerl, Smith remembered her grandfather's sense of humor. He would have her sit on his foot, so he could bounce her while singing nursery rhymes.
"He was a hard, hard worker, and I loved him so much," Smith said.
While they will never know how the medal ended up in that donation box, Smith is happy to have it back home.
"I'm proud to have this honor."
Jesse of the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club (left) returns medal to Mary Smith (right), the granddaughter of World War One veteran Alex Pangerl.