Just a few weeks ago, a Purple Heart was found on the side of the road in Bakersfield. No one knows for sure how it got there, but thanks to research by some Bakersfield High School students and their teacher, they now know the recipient.
"Right there in the middle of the road, right in that lane," said Bobby Hanks, Commander for the VFW Post 97.
In a place you'd only expect to find trash, a trucker passing through found a Purple Heart on South Union Avenue right in front of VFW Post 97.
"It was on the edge of the street, right on the highway," said Hanks.
The trucker turned the medal over to the veterans and the vets knew they had to find its rightful owner.
"That medal doesn't belong to anyone but his family," said Hanks.
The veterans decided to turn the Purple Heart over to BHS teacher Ken Hooper and his archiving class.
"It kind of caught my eye because I had never seen one before," said Megan Stapp, a BHS archiving student.
The only clues the students had were engraved on the back of the medal, showing the recipient's name, his rank and the day he died.
"That was it, and then it turned into this cross country adventure," said Hooper.
"We spent about three weeks looking for this one person," said Stapp.
They contacted historians, genealogists and newspapers to finally identify the man this medal belonged to. Robert A. Bates was a Navy Corpsman who enlisted in 1940 and was first stationed in San Diego. Then on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Bates was killed on the U.S.S. Arizona.
"His body is still entombed in the U.S.S Arizona," said Hooper. "There's no body been recovered."
After learning about the man behind the medal, the search began for his closest living relative. The class found Bates' niece, Kris Wilson, in Texas.
"I called her at 7:30 at night on a Saturday and it was a little intense conversation," said Hooper.
"It's amazing that, that is coming back to our family after 70 years," said Wilson. "It's just some amazing work by the people in Bakersfield."
When Wilson receives the medal, she plans to give it to her brother who is a veteran.
"I'm going to make a nice plaque and seal it," said Mark Bates, Bates' nephew.
One question still remains, how did the Purple Heart end up on old 99? Relatives think it was lost there by one of Bates' brothers who lived in Bakersfield.
But, that's only a guess.
"I don't know if we'll ever find out why it was on the side of the road," said Hooper.
In any case, very soon the medal will be back in the Bates family.
"We knew that it was important to get it into someone's hands," said Hooper.
Upon hearing about the medal, Kern County veterans have vowed to deliver it to the family in person.