KSLA Salutes: Purple Heart Lost and Found

KSLA Salutes: Purple Heart Lost and Found

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - It’s our country’s oldest and most recognized service medal.

Since 1932, 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded.

“Of all the medals up to and including the medal of honor, for valor awards, it is probably the most prestigious and the most revered, because of what it represents,” explained Vietnam Veteran Ron Chatelain, a member of the Northwest Louisiana Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Chatelain says that is an amazing number.

“It shows since that time what our troops have suffered," Chatelain said. "Of course the award is awarded for wounds received in combat against an adversary of the United States.”

Many of them awarded posthumously.

"Through World War II and possibly Korea they were monogrammed with the recipients name on the back," he continued.

Which brings us to the back story of this specific medal.

“One day at our hospital it just showed up,” said Overton Brooks VA Medical Center Associate Director Zachary Sage. “If you flip the medal over you can see it actually has the veteran’s name on it.”

The box, medal and unrelated lapel pin turned up to lost and found at the medical center. Sage joined other members of the staff to began the quest to return the medal.

“This veteran, he was killed in action and I don’t know what his family knows about his story or his service, but I think it’s important that they know he was awarded this medal and it’s a part of their family history,” he said.

After a few hours on Google, his search lead him to a West Orange, New Jersey yearbook.

Research links the found Purple Heart to John "Fruity" Efstis of West Orange, New Jersey (Source: KSLA News 12)
Research links the found Purple Heart to John "Fruity" Efstis of West Orange, New Jersey (Source: KSLA News 12)

“He was a young man in his late teens early 20s and had only been in the army for a short time when he was killed,” Sage continued.

A little more searching, and Sage learned PFC John Efstis was one of a thousand soldiers killed on the transport ship the HMT Rohna in 1943.

“The Rohna was sunk in 1943, but no information was made public about that ship and it’s sinking until 1993, until there was a freedom of information act request placed by family member and the story started to come out,” Sage said. “We know there’s a family out there who needs to have this heirloom return to them.”

Since receiving the medal, Sage and other staff members have kept it locked up as they continue their search for the family.

They’ve even reached out to the national group Purple Hearts Reunited.

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