A California war veteran received an 80th birthday present far beyond anything he could have imagined when he received the Purple Heart awarded to his brother, who died exactly 66 years earlier.
On Raymond Coulombe’s 14th birthday on April 15, 1951, he learned that his 20-year-old brother, U.S. Army Sgt. Maurice Coulombe, had died during the Korean War.
The news left him devastated.
“I was 14 years old celebrating my birthday with my grandparents and that's when we got the news that my brother was killed,” Coulombe told InsideEdition.com. “He looked after me. He loved me. He was the only person in my family that really loved me. If anyone tried to hurt me, he was right there for me. He was just that kind of person.”
Recently, Coulombe received a call that would change his life.
His brother had married 15-year-old Bobbi Holmes without his family’s knowledge while in boot camp at 17 years old. However, Sgt. Coulombe was deployed to Korea just days later.
So when he died while out on a mission at the age of 20 on March 31, 1951, the medal of valor he was awarded posthumously was sent to his wife.
Sherry Morse, Bobbi Holmes’ daughter, had seen the Purple Heart in her home throughout her childhood but it wasn’t until her mom recently died that she thought she should search for a way to find Sgt. Coulombe’s family, Morse told InsideEdition.com.
Morse contacted Purple Hearts Reunited, based in Vermont, which has returned lost or stolen medals and other artifacts to more than 300 families, to see if they could help her find Coulombe.
“It’s the most patriotic thing I’ve done in my lifetime,” Morse said.
The organization flew Coulombe from Los Angeles to Maine, where the brothers grew up, to give him the medal in a ceremony they held for him on his birthday – 66 years to the day after he originally received the news of his brother’s death.
"What they're doing for me, what they've opened to me after 66 years. I feel so blessed,” Coulombe said. “It’s like [life] coming full-circle.”
To Coulombe’s surprise, they also threw him an 80th birthday party with 15 of his childhood friends in attendance as well.