The personal effects of the first U.S. servicewoman killed in Afghanistan are in the hands of someone who only means to make money off of them after finding them in a storage unit he purchased.
Some of the items up for sale instead of being returned to her family include the funeral flag from her burial, her dog tag, military medals, her yearbook from basic training and even the Gold Star banner given to her family by the government after her death. The late Sgt. Jeannette Winters certainly had a lot to be proud of in the service of her country.
Winter’s family has made an appeal to the Northwest Indiana businessman, Mark Perko of Hobart, who now owns the items. Also making an appeal is the homeless shelter in Gary named after her. Executive director of Webb House Inc., who helped dedicate the Sgt. Jeannette Winters Center for Homeless Veterans last week in Gary, said he’s like to display some of the items at the shelter and added that he offered Perko $1,000 and four Bears tickets in return.
“He would not take it,” Farmer said in a statement. “That’s where we stand,”
Farmer emphasized that the items are only valuable to the Winters family and to his center where the public would be able to view them. Winters died in the war when a tanker plane crashed into a mountain in Pakistan in January 2002.
Her father’s home was broken into during her funeral and the family decided to put her property into storage for safekeeping. According to a family member, the father soon became ill which likely caused him to miss payments on the storage unit.
That would have been about the same time Perko made the purchase. He said he knew he had bought something valuable right away when he came across letters from President Bush, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, as well as an Indiana General Assembly proclamation and a Gary City Council resolution. He also quickly spotted the framed photo of Winters in her uniform.
But Perko is adamant about keeping and selling the items he purchased from the storage unit four years ago.
“This is how I make my living,” Perko said in a statement. “This is how I feed my kids.”
Perko said he reached out to the Winters family through a friend with connections to the U.S. Marine Corps. He said he never received a response and didn’t say whether he would have given the items back to the family anyway.
However, after an article about the situation appeared Tuesday in the Post-Tribune of Merrillville, Perko said he has been inundated by calls from reporters and added that he is now deciding what’s the right thing to do with the property.
Winters brother, Matthew Winters Jr. said he has delayed returning to his home in California in order to try and retrieve the items.
“Man Aims to Cash in on Marin’s Storage-Unit Treasures.” Chicago Sun-Times. Nov. 30, 2010.
“Family Wants Belongings of marine Killed in ’02.” Post-Tribune. Nov. 30, 2010.
“Family of fallen Indiana Marine Wants Back Belongings Lost When Storage Unit Payments Missed.” Daily Reporter. Nov. 30, 2010.