"It is my great honor to return this medal…"
began USMC General Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the second highest ranking military officer in the US Armed Forces. In his hand, he held a velvet-lined jewelry case holding the Gold Star Hero of the Soviet Union Medal, No. 3902. It had been awarded to Sgt Mookhudin Umurdinov (see Digest Issue #9, Dec. 31, 2001). The setting was the Uzbek National Military Museum in the capital city of Tashkent. On hand to receive his father's medal was Mr. Rakhmatzon Umurdinov, the 3rd son.
Gold star and award booklet
The Gold Star Medal and accompanying booklet purchased by the author in December of 1997. Unknown to the author, it had been stolen only a few months earlier. The Umurdinov family had been evacuated from their home because of a terrible flood. When they returned, they discovered amongst other things, the awards of their father had been stolen. Note slight water damage on the inside of the award booklet, which corroborates the story.

The medal's return culminated a five year journey, from the Hero's home in the small village of Boyiston in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan, and back again. The story started in May 1997 when the village flooded during a violent rain storm. The Umurdinovs vacated their home. When they returned three days later, someone had broken in and ransacked the house. Among the missing items were the Gold Star Medal and the accompany award booklet.
The medal and booklet was smuggled out of Uzbekistan and eventually found its way to a German medals dealer. In December 1997, I was in the market to purchase a Hero Star and wanted to buy one awarded to an ethnic minority. I contacted the dealer, who responded by FAX: "I have for you right now a Hero of the Soviet Union with order book, which was given to an Uzbek, Nr. 3902." He explained that he had just obtained it and offered it at X dollars.
Then strange things started to happen. When I FAXed back a response saying that I wanted it, it arrived in my mailbox even before I could send the money! I had never done business with this gentleman. It had been registered, but the postman simply stuck the package in my mailbox without getting my signature!
On May 28, 2000, I attended the Great Western Military Show in Las Vegas. I went there on setup day with a friend and was looking around when I came across a dealer selling Soviet military items. He had three large photo albums crammed full of official portraits of Heroes of the Soviet Union. Out of curiosity, I started thumbing through the pages until I came to a certain photo. I had seen that handsome guy before, but couldn't remember who he was. On the back of the photo in pencil was Cyrillic script which I couldn't read well. So I asked the dealer to read the name for me. He said, "Umurdinov Mookhudin!" I was flabbergasted! And the dealer said jokingly, "What, you know this guy? Then, for you, $25.00!" I purchased the photo and walked around in a daze.
Now, what are the odds of finding an official portrait of a Hero whose medal I possessed, in Las Vegas, of all places! The odds must have been one in a billion! I felt as though I had hit a jackpot! At the show, I ran into Paul McDaniel, author of The Comprehensive Guide to Soviet Orders and Medals. This was the first time I had ever met him, and he turned out to be a very knowledgeable and friendly guy. (continued)
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