LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A Southern California woman who grew up knowing little of her father -- a heroic casualty of World War II -- is now the proud owner of his long-lost battle medals, including a Silver Star and Purple Heart.
Hyla Merin's mother never spoke about the Army officer who died before she was born.
The scraps of information she gathered from other relatives were hazy: 2nd Lt. Hyman Markel was a rabbi's son, brilliant at mathematics, the brave winner of battlefield honors who died sometime in 1945.
Aside from wedding photos of Markel in uniform, Merin never glimpsed him.
About four months ago, the manager of a West Hollywood apartment building where Merin's mother lived in the 1960s found a box containing papers and the Purple Heart while cleaning out some lockers in the laundry room, Merin said.
The manager contacted Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit organization that returns lost or stolen medals to vets or their families.
A search led to Merin.
On Sunday, she received the Purple Heart, along with a Silver Star she never knew her father had won and a half-dozen other medals.
Merin wiped away tears as the Silver Star was pinned to her lapel during a short ceremony attended by friends and family at her home in Westlake Village, a community straddling the Ventura and Los Angeles county lines.
The other medals were presented on a plaque.
"It just confirms what a great man he was," Merin said tearfully. "He gave up his life for our country and our freedom. I'll put it up in my house as a memorial to him and to those who served."
Merin's mother, Celia, married Markel in 1941 when he already was in the military.
Markel was killed in the last days of World War II on May 3, 1945.
He died in Italy's Po Valley while fighting German troops as an officer with the 88th Division of the 351st Infantry Regiment, said Zachariah Fike, the Vermont Army National Guard captain who founded Purple Hearts Reunited.