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Stolen Purple Heart medal recovered

A Purple Heart medal that was stolen from

A Purple Heart medal that was stolen from Thomas Barden has been recovered and the suspected serial burglars arrested, Suffolk County police said. Thomas Barden, center, at his beach house on Fire Island with his two sons, Thomas Barden Jr., left, and Gregory Barden, right. Photo Credit: Handout, 1955

A Purple Heart medal that was stolen from a Bay Shore man wounded in the Normandy invasion has been recovered and the suspected serial burglars arrested, Suffolk police said.

Thomas Barden, who turns 87 Monday, received the medal after he was shot in the head during the 1944 invasion, said his son, Scott Barden, 47, of Oakdale.

Barden said someone broke into his parents West Babylon home Friday and took a safe containing the treasured medal.

"He was upset," Barden said of his father, who now lives in an assisted living facility and suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

"He started to cry. It's disrespectful to the people that fight."

At about 1 p.m. Saturday, Suffolk County police arrested Ryan O'Malley, 33, and Nicole Oliva, 29, on charges of committing a series of burglaries, including that of the Purple Heart.

The pair, who had been living at the Deer Park Motor Inn, are linked to a string of six burglaries over the last two weeks, police said.

Two officers on patrol spotted a gray 2000 Dodge Durango parked in the lot of the motel that appeared to match the description of a vehicle used in one of the burglaries. The officers interviewed the occupants of the car, and found a loaded 9 mm handgun on Oliva, police said.

Further investigation led to O'Malley and Oliva being charged with six counts of second-degree burglary, possession of burglar's tools, and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. Oliva was also charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

The two are scheduled to be arraigned Monday in First District Court in Central Islip.

Thomas Barden is happy to have his piece of history back. "When I told him, he smiled and shook my hand," his son said.

After receiving the Purple Heart, Thomas Barden placed symbols of the medal on his car, wore a Purple Heart themed jacket, and went to meetings with other recipients.

Each Veterans Day, he and other Purple Heart recipients also laid flags on the tombs of veterans.

While this year will be the first time Barden won't make the trip, he will rest easy that his medal is back in safe hands, his son said.

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