Mike Dean has dedicated his life to supporting veterans, so it was hardly a surprise when his oldest daughter, Angela, presented him with a box of World War II medals and memorabilia as a Father’s Day gift in June.
She knew how much her father loves military history, so when the box was up for bid at an auction in Mooresville, Ind., she jumped at the chance to buy it for him.
But when Dean found a stamp with the name ‘Edward Kuntz’ on it in the box of memorabilia, a thoughtful Father’s Day gift turned into something much bigger.
“Even though there weren’t a lot of medals, it was still a veteran, it was still a person, it was still somebody that I had no knowledge of that I wanted to learn about,” said Dean, who works in NSWC Crane’s Expeditionary Systems Department.
Dean’s passion for military history and veteran support comes from his personal history with the armed forces. Dean served in the Marines, Navy and the Army, his father was a marine, his son was a member of the Coast Guard, his brother served in the Air Force, and his daughter served in the Army.
Dean is a big part of the Indiana chapter of “Wish For Our Heroes” and he hosts a weekly radio show called “Got Your 6” that focuses specifically on veterans.
“It’s my passion, it’s my calling, it’s my desire to do whatever I can to help veterans,” Dean said. “That’s why I was set ablaze by the information I was receiving about this box of medals. The story just kept getting more wonderful as we progressed.”
The information he was receiving came from John Summerlot, the Director of Veteran Support Services at Indiana University. Dean had previously worked with Summerlot on a project for his radio show, and Summerlot mentioned at that time that he was a big history buff, especially when it came to IU military history.
“I think that triggered something in his mind that he called me and said, ‘I’ve got this box of medals, and I think there’s an IU connection with them. Do you want to check them out, do you want to see it?’” Summerlot said. “It was clearly one person’s collection of things and had been very carefully preserved and held onto intentionally.”
The first thing Summerlot noticed was a rare World War II challenge coin with the engraving ‘Germany 1945’ sitting atop the box of memorabilia.
“Even if you go online and look for old challenge coins, you very rarely see anything even as far back as the 60s and 70s,” Summerlot said. “Historians kind of argue about the origin of challenge coins, and here was this challenge coin from World War II sitting right on top of the pile.”
Summerlot quickly became intrigued with the box of memorabilia, and he eventually tracked down the transcript to an interview done with Kuntz in 1974.
“As I read through it, the pieces just kind of fell into place,” Summerlot said.
As it turned out, Kuntz started studying at IU in 1939 and was sent off the World War II just four credits shy of his degree.
Kuntz later returned to IU in 1948 to finish his undergraduate degree, and also earned master’s and doctorate degrees in business. He then served as the assistant dean at the IU business school for 18 years and later helped create what is now known as the School of Continuing Studies. Kuntz retired from IU in 1986 and passed away in 1999 at the age of 77.
Summerlot found Kuntz’s obituary online and tracked down his daughter, Debra Mysliviec, on LinkedIn because of her unique last name. He saw that she had two degrees from IU, and the dates were consistent with her being Edward’s daughter.
Summerlot found Mysliviec’s phone number, and left her a voicemail.
“I said, ‘I think I have some stuff that may belong to your father. This may be your stuff. Please feel free to call me back,’” Summerlot said.
“I was really excited to call him back,” Mysliviec said. “I think I got the voicemail at like 9 o’clock at night and I called him right back, even though I knew he wasn’t at IU that late.”
Ironically, Mysliviec attended the very same auction where Dean’s daughter bought the box of World War II memorabilia.
When her mother passed away, Mysliviec went through the stuff she could from her parents’ home, but she couldn’t sort through all of it. So Mysliviec hired the auction company in Mooresville to go through it for her, and she attended the auction to buy back as many of her father’s belongings as possible.
Mysliviec had to step out for a moment when the box of medals and memorabilia came up for bid, and she missed out on it. When she listened to the voicemail from Summerlot, Mysliviec realized she may get them back.
“It’s just great because it was very hard for me to even see some of this stuff get sold off that I couldn’t afford,” Mysliviec said. “I’m really excited to get these things. I know he’s [Edward Kuntz] happy.”
Summerlot connected Mysliviec with Dean, and Dean happily returned the box of Kuntz’s World War II memorabilia to Mysliviec at her home in Cincinnati.
“I was just so overwhelmed,” Dean said. “I get so excited about it anyway that it was just amazing that I was able to talk to the family.
“It was a really good gift. To be able to pass it on, that’s even better.”
Dean has dedicated his life to telling the heartwarming stories of other veterans. It just so happened that Dean made it possible for this special story to be told.
Because of his unique curiosity and unwavering passion for helping veterans, Dean was able to make a difference for the daughter of a special World War II veteran.
On this Veteran’s Day 2016, it’s important to honor our country’s fallen veterans, but also those that are still living, those that work every day to make sure their fellow veterans are not forgotten. People like Mike Dean.
“As a veteran, you just think about your service, and the time you spent with others,” Dean said. “It means so much. The tears start to flow, brings up so much inside of me. It makes you think of all of those that you served with. You can still see those faces, those people that you served with, that you never forget. You always want to honor them.”