Finding a symbol of survival, Cranston man searches for its owner

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(WPRI) — A Cranston man is on a mission to return a prestigious award to its rightful owner after finding it discarded in a pile of trash.

Joe Fernandes of Cranston was just an infant when Rhode Islander James E. Goff went to war in Vietnam.

Fernandes had never heard of Goff, until a Friday afternoon at the Terraces apartments. He and a coworker were reorganizing dusty shelves in a maintenance shop when he noticed something out of place, tucked in with a pile of magazines in the corner of the room.

“I saw the seal,” Fernandes recalled. “I opened the cover and there it was. This is something special.”

It was a citation for “The Air Medal,” which represents nine dangerous months in the life of Goff, who was barely 20 years old when he flew over and through a war zone. The citation reveals Goff actively participated in more than 25 aerial missions over hostile territory during the Vietnam War.

“I can’t imagine one time, let alone 25 times,” Fernandes explained as he read through the citation.

Fernandes immediately began asking around the apartment complex and using social media to search of Goff. He said despite his efforts, he has yet to find any clues on how the citation ended up buried in the shop.

While he hoped to eventually find Goff, Eyewitness News learned the Vietnam War veteran died two years ago at the age of 68.

“It makes it more important,” Fernandes explained.

Now he’s hoping to jog a memory or two in an effort to reconnect the honor to the family of the man who earned it.

“This man did what he was told to do,” Fernandes said. “And he sacrificed for us. And he survived 25 flights. I sure hope a viewer or someone can help us out and bring it back to friends, family… just someone.”

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