Battle Over Fallen Marine's Belongings May be Ending

Belongings were sold 7 years ago in an auction

An Indiana businessman who purchased a storage facility containing personal belongings of a fallen Marine seven years ago said he'll cut his losses and give the items back to the family.

"I just do not feel right holding onto these items," Mark Perko said Tuesday after the battle over the belongings gained media attention.

Marine Sgt. Jeannette Winters died in 2002 while serving in Afghanistan. She was one of the first U.S. servicewomen to die in the war. Her belongings were placed in a storage unit after her parents' home was burglarized.

But her ailing father missed payments on the storage facility and the owners were forced to auction its contents, which include Winters' funeral flag, her birth certificate, a report about the crash that took her life, letters from President George W. Bush and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, an Indiana General Assembly proclamation and a Gary City Council resolution.

Perko purchased the storage unit along with its contents seven years ago and said he tried to contact the family initially through a military contact but never heard back.

He came forward with the materials again this week because a homeless shelter was dedicated in honor of Sgt. Winters on Nov. 27th. He wanted to see if the shelter would be interested in purchasing her medals for display.

Matthew Winters Jr., Jeannette's brother, told the Chicago Sun-Times that he wanted the materials returned and that he was willing to pay.

"I just want to the stuff back, just tell me what you want," he said.

Also willing to pay was Robert Farmer, the executive director of Webb House Inc., who helped dedicate the Sgt. Jeannette Winters Center for Homeless Female Veterans last week and authenticated the items.

Farmer offered Perko $1,000 and four Chicago Bears tickets, but Perko initially declined, arguing that the family has had seven years to claim them and questioned why they are coming forward now.

Late Tuesday, Perko said he paid about $1,500 for the items but doesn't care about the money.  He said he'll give the items back with no charge, as long as some of the items go to the Webb House.

"I'm just going to cut my loss on this whole thing," he said in a telephone interview with the Chicago Tribune. "They can have it back if they want it."

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