Family gets back personal effects of fallen Marine

Mark Perko, Matthew Winters, Jeanette Winters
Mark Perko, left, shakes hands with Matthew Winters after Perko gave Winters his sister's items during a short ceremony at the American Legion Post 54, Wednesday, in Hobart, Ind.Stephanie Dowell / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Indiana businessman who bought the dog tags, medals and funeral flag belonging to the first U.S. servicewoman to die in the war in Afghanistan handed over her personal effects to her brother on Wednesday after initially refusing to give them back.

Matthew Winters Jr. said he received Sgt. Jeannette Winters' belongings from Mark Perko at an American Legion post in northwest Indiana. Perko had bought the items after the Winters' sick father failed to keep up with the payments on a storage locker where they were held.

Matthew Winters says he holds no ill feelings toward Perko, who initially said he would not give the belongings back.

"I have no problem with him," Winters told The Associated Press. "What's done is done. The bottom line is, I got everything back."

Perko initially said he wasn't considering handing over the personal effects to the family because buying items from abandoned storage lockers and selling them was how he made his living. He said he changed his mind after speaking with his brother Tuesday night and wants to put the matter behind him.

"It's just not worth all this," he told the AP. "I've done nothing wrong. My name's been thrown through the wringer."

Matthew Winters said it was important for the family to get back the possessions. His sister, who grew up in Gary, was 25 years old in 2002 when she and six other Marines were killed when a KC-130 tanker plane they were in crashed in Pakistan. He said the family decided to put her belongings in storage after they discovered their father's home had been broken into during her funeral services.

He said his family appreciates the support they've received from the people in northern Indiana and the Chicago area.

"I'm just thankful," he said.

Winters said he didn't find out that his father had failed to keep up with the storage unit payments until after the belongings were gone. He said he discovered Perko owned the items when he returned to Gary last week for the dedication of the Sgt. Jeannette Winters Center for Homeless Female Veterans.

Perko said he knew whose belongings he was buying when he purchased them and he tried through a friend to contact the Winters family but never heard back. He told the AP on Tuesday he was concerned about giving the property back to the family because they had failed to care for it properly and was concerned they might try to sell it.

Perko said those who have criticized him failed to recognize that he had saved the collection, saying some items had been eaten by mice.

"I kept this preserved and safe and all I get is that I'm no good," he said.

Matthew Winters said he plans to bring the property back to where he lives now in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and go through it piece by piece.