You can find the most amazing things—from valuable artifacts to kitschy treasures—when you’re dumpster diving. But sometimes, trash trawling yields an heirloom that’s truly priceless—like the personal history of a hero.

Family photos on Fox 46 News exclusive – Fair use

U.S. Navy veteran Donald Helfer flew in 28 missions over enemy territory during WWII and was decorated for his bravery. Along with the Navy Flying Cross and a Bronze Star, Helfer even received a stirring letter from Harry Truman in which the President expressed his gratitude for helping “bring about the total defeat of the enemy” and offering the “heartfelt thanks of a grateful Nation.”

But Helfer was never one to seek glory. After leaving the military, he went on to become a police officer in upstate New York, eventually retiring to Florida. He passed away in 1993, taking the memories of his impressive military achievements with him—almost.

While Helfer’s children were aware of their dad’s stint in the navy, they never knew the true nature of his service. They were, however, about to make an incredible discovery concerning his forgotten legacy—all thanks to a serendipitous dumpster find in Hickory, North Carolina.

When a treasure trove of Helfer’s personal items—including medals, photos, identification, and military records—turned up in the Hickory dumpster, the man who found them immediately recognized their worth. (Helfer’s effects were likely discarded by whoever sorted through his late second wife’s Hickory estate and deemed them “not worth keeping.”)

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The finder turned over the cache to Navy vet and American Legion Post 544 Commander Jeff Truitt for safekeeping until Helfer’s relatives could be found. Truitt was able to locate Helfer’s grown children in Rochester, New York, and his daughter, Linda Delorey, living in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

“This could have just been left in the trash, but maybe this family can now have some closure and learn some things about what their father did,” Truitt told FOX News 46. “He was a hero.”

At the end of this past February, Delorey drove from Wilkesboro to Hickory to meet up with Truitt. Delorey found herself in awe as she turned the pages of the neatly organized binder Truitt had put together containing her father’s precious mementos.

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Along with the never-before-seen snaps of her dad, for the first time, Delorey also saw a photo of her grandfather. It was like history unfolding before her eyes. Now that the family treasure has been restored, Delorey plans to share the bounty with her relatives as soon as she’s able.

“This guy was a hero in World War II,” Truitt told FOX. “He was just one of millions who served—and that’s his story that can be told forever now.”

(WATCH the Fox 46 News video about Truitt below.)

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