A crowd of Kalispell police officers and at least one Flathead County deputy gathered at the police station Tuesday morning for a different kind of reunion.
During a brief ceremony, medals stolen along with the uniform of deceased Vietnam veteran James Smith were returned to their owner, Greg Smith, the brother of James Smith.
“I know everyone’s done way more than they normally do on this and it’s super,” Smith said, later adding, “you guys went beyond what I ever thought you would do for this.”
In addition to the medals being recovered for Smith, Officer Dave Massie said they were sent to Northwest Territorial Mint, a Texas company that worked with the police department, at no charge, to clean and refurbish the medals and return them to a near-pristine state.
“They look better than they ever have,” Smith said.
Several items also were replaced with new versions, including the chest plate of Smith’s campaign ribbons and his dog tags.
The uniform itself and the shadow box that contained it were never found.
They were stolen from Greg Smith’s frame shop and then scattered around town by the thief, who even attempted to pawn some of the medals.
Kalispell Police Chief Roger Nasset said the work that led to the medals being located was a “concerted team effort” among officers of his department and deputies.
“It wasn’t like a burden, it was an honor,” Nasset said.
That sentiment was evidenced by the officers present, including Deputy Colten O’Connell, who found Smith’s Purple Heart by searching a snow bank with a metal detector.
“I don’t have words for it, really,” Smith said. “It’s so great to have this stuff back.”
The suspect in the case, Sean Smith, 25, of Kalispell has been charged in Kalispell Municipal Court with misdemeanor theft as well as another count of theft in an unrelated case.
He has at least two prior convictions for misdemeanor theft.
In Flathead District Court, he is charged with two felony counts of forgery and felony counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs and theft as well as a misdemeanor count of theft, with the charges spread across four cases.
Smith’s next hearing in Municipal Court is Feb. 25. He has hearings Thursday on possible revocation of his release in all four of his District Court cases.
Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.