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Families reunited with long lost Purple Hearts

Zachariah Fike speaks during the 2018 "Eight on Seven" event in Washington D.C. on Purple Heart Day observed each year on Aug. 7, the anniversary of the creation of the medal.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By LEONARD GREENE | New York Daily News | Published: August 7, 2019

NEW YORK (Tribune News Service) — His own father has a Purple Heart, earned in the skies above Vietnam, so when Robert Goins uncovered a long-lost medal from a storage facility buyer in Tacoma Washington, he knew he had a duty to get it back in the right hands.

Sisters Toni Thompson and Pamela O’Brien, meanwhile, had heard family stories about their uncle, Air Force Corporal Howard Louis Ellis, whose B-17 was shot down over Indonesia in 1942 during World War II.

But they never knew that the Purple Heart Ellis had earned with his death was missing until a non-profit group that reunites families with the medals gave them a call.

“We always just assumed that Grandma had it,” Thompson said. “When she passed away, nothing was said.”

Thompson and O’Brien, who live in Washington state, will receive the medal from Goins on Wednesday in a Manhattan ceremony organized by Purple Hearts Reunited, a non-profit organization that returns lost or stolen medals to veterans and military families.

Thompson and O’Brien are among several families receiving long lost medals at the Fire Museum in SoHo on what is recognized as “National Purple Heart Day.”

Goins was happy the story of Ellis’ Purple Heart has a happy ending considering what the alternative could have been. Goins, who also buys storage facility items, rescued Ellis’ medal from another buyer who was trying to make a buck.

“He was trying to sell it,” Goins said. “It’s a pretty seedy thing to do to try to sell someone’s valor.”

Medals awarded posthumously are engraved with the recipient’s name. Purple Hearts Reunited founder Zachariah Fike, who received a Purple Heart for wounds received in Afghanistan, urges living recipients to get their medals engraved in case they are ever lost.

“I had my Purple Heart engraved at `Things Remembered’ at the mall,” Fike said.

As proud as he is about his Purple Heart and the work his organization does, Fike said it really isn’t about the medal.

“The medal is the least important thing that we do,” Fike said. “These journeys, these stories, these families override the actual medals. It’s a conduit to something greater."

David Algranti and his sister Joyce Bailey never even knew they had a medal winner in their family until Fike reached out to them about their uncle, Private First Class John Efstis, who was on a British transport ship when it was sunk by a German bomber off the coast of North Africa in 1943.

Bailey said Efstis’ mother always held out hope that he survived, so Bailey said she suspects that a relative kept private the news of her uncle’s posthumous Purple Heart.

“All of this is a shock to us,” Bailey said. “Someone turned it in. We have no clue who it was. But somebody cared enough to go through the trouble of tracking us down.”

©2019 New York Daily News
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