Purple Heart and 6 other medals returned to niece of NA vet who died on D-Day

A Purple Heart, belonging to George F. Eckardt, of North Arlington, was one of seven medals returned to his niece, Margaret Nichols, 78 years after his death. Eckardt died June 6, 1944 — D-Day — in Normandy, France.

In World War II, North Arlington soldier Private First Class (PFC) George F. Eckardt tragically gave his life, as a young man, in service to the nation. And, after his incomprehensible sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. But sadly, over time, for whatever the reason, his family lost track of the precious medal.

Enter his surviving niece, Margaret Nichols, also of North Arlington.

She enlisted the help of Len Twist, of the Kearny American Legion.

As usual, Twist came through, first getting help from William Sweeney.

And then, around Christmastime 2022, Nichols got the word she’d been waiting years for. Only it was much more than just the Purple Heart —there would be six additional awards coming Nichols’s way.

“With the required documentation needed and the difficulties brought about by many offices closed due to the pandemic, the much anticipated phone call came to me during this holiday season,” she said. “With the assistance of U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9, I was very honored to be presented a total of seven awards by Sweeney.”

It was an incredible Christmas gift, to say the very least, in honor of a man who made the ultimate sacrifice — and who left this world way too soon.

Speaking of which, Eckardt was born on the Eckardt farm in North Arlington and attended public schools in the borough until going to work in the family dairy business. Drafted into the military — he could have gotten deferments as a milk producer, which was deemed a life necessity product — he decided to not seek deferment and to go to war for his country.

And while it seems he was ever so close to making it home, sadly, he was killed in action on D-Day, June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France, one week after his 30th birthday.

He was noted to be the first man from North Arlington to be killed in action in World War II.

Though his entire immediate family has died, the surviving nieces and nephews, and the grand ones also, had made it a quest to always keep his life, his honor and his legacy alive.

And after many years, they’ve succeeded.

“So to our Uncle George here is your legacy —  in addition to the aforementioned, he was also a member of the ambulance corps in North Arlington, was a Scoutmaster in North Arlington, a firefighter in the same department founded by his father in North Arlington,” Nichols said proudly. “ With the dedication you showed to the borough you always said you were honored to call your home, and 78 years after you made the ultimate sacrifice for your country, with the assistance of the American Legion Post 99, Mr. Twist, Mr. Sweeney and Congressman Pascrell, the final part of your legacy is now back here in your beloved town of North Arlington.”

Nichols says the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal & Oak Leaf Cluster, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Honorable Service WWII Lapel Pin and the Gold Star Mothers’ Lapel Pin were all awarded to Eckardt and delivered to him at the end of 2022.

And it’s made Nichols one happy niece.

“Since they were delivered and presented during the holiday season, they were placed under the tree and will forever be remembered as the best gift I have ever received or will probably ever receive,” she said. “The medals shine brightly under the soft glow of the Christmas lights and the serenity of the holiday season.

“Uncle George, rest in peace, as you are now fully home — and with special thanks from people who were once strangers but will forever be friends, your long overdue honors of medals, ribbons and pins are now home in your beloved North Arlington.”

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.