BALLSTON SPA - It took Tammie Mohan of Clifton Park a couple of years to get around to examining the black purse she picked up at a garage sale in Mechanicville or Stillwater.
But when she went to clean the purse out a couple of weeks ago, she found a hole in the lining, and inside that lining a military medal -- a Purple Heart, awarded to those injured or killed in combat. She knew it was important to try to return it to the owner.
In Milton, meanwhile, the Mabb family knew that their ancestor, Army Pfc. Floyd Mabb of Ballston Spa, had been part of the 101st Airborne Division -- the "Screaming Eagles" -- and was killed in fighting following the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.
Through a series of surprising connections, the Mabb family was reunited Tuesday with the Purple Heart Floyd Mabb earned before any of them were born.
"It was a shock," said nephew Lloyd Helman of Milton, who is active in the Ballston Spa American Legion post and in recent years had been trying to learn more about his ancestor. The family knows only that Floyd's mother had the medal, and it became missing at some point after she died.
Mabb, who served in the 101st Airborne Division, was killed fending off a German tank attack in Longchamps, Belgium, on Jan. 3, 1945, soon after the end of the Siege of Bastogne, in which the 101st Airborne had been surrounded, but held out. Mabb was a veteran of the D-Day parachute landings and Operation Market Garden, a famed ambitious paratroop offensive that failed.
Mabb, one of 10 children growing up in Ballston Spa, had enlisted in the Army in 1943. He served with 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He is buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Luxembourg.
"It wasn't a name that was brought up much a family gatherings," said Helman, 72. "My grandmother was so heartbroken, she didn't want it brought up in the family."
Mohan didn't know any of that, but she knew the medal she found a couple of weeks ago would matter to someone. She posted about it on Facebook, and it was seen there by Carolyn Hayner of Halfmoon, the wife of Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner, a cousin of hers. Carolyn knew that the clerk's office and the county Veteran's Services Agency regularly research veterans.
"His name was inscribed on it, but that was really just the starting point. We didn't know if it was someone local," Hayner said.
The inscription was so tiny that Hayner at first thought the name was "McNabb" -- but a magnifying glass was more revealing. The Mabbs are a well-established family in the Ballston Spa-Milton area, and Hayner's executive assistant, Kathy Pastore Jordan, turned out to have a neighbor who was a Mabb and knew about Floyd. That lead to Tuesday's presentation ceremony at the Ballston Spa American Legion Post 234 on Pleasant Street.
"It all came together in just a couple of weeks," Craig Hayner said.
"It's an incredible series of events. Is it coincidence? I'd like to think it isn't," said Frank McClement, director of the county Veterans Services Agency.
The ceremony was attended by nephews Lloyd and William "Bub" Helman, and several great-nieces and nephews.
"This is amazing. When my father (Lloyd) called to tell me that this was found, it was one of the last things I ever expected," said Wendy Brust of Middle Grove,a great-niece.
Milton Town Supervisor Scott Ostrander said Mabb will be recognized as the county's "Deceased Veteran of the Month" in November.