Most days, Overton Brooks VA ambassador, Nathaniel Cornelius, will see hundreds of people. Most of the time Veterans just need to know where to go for their appointment. But March 29, 2019, was no average day. That’s when an anonymous person handed Cornelius a Purple Heart medal, which set in motion the mystery to find its owner.

“As a Veteran, I knew this was important and I should give it to the right person,” said Cornelius.

Inscription of John Efstis on Purple Heart medal.

Purple Heart medal for PFC John Efstis.

A name on the back of the medal read “John M. Efstis.” A preliminary internet search found his name listed in records from the State of New Jersey.

According to records, Private First Class John Efstis served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and he is listed as missing in action on November 27, 1943.

Additional research, if accurate, shows that PFC Efstis was on board the troop transport ship, the HMT Rohna, when the vessel was attacked in 1943 by German aircraft. The Rohna sank, which resulted in the loss of more than 1,000 soldiers. PFC Efstis is among the many believed to be lost at sea.

The Overton Brooks VA Medical Center has communicated with the Purple Heart Reunited Foundation and the New Jersey Department of Veterans Affairs to return the medal to Efstis’ family.

Additional leads have turned up the name of a possible link to a nephew of Efstis, who is a resident of California.

“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 is a part of their family history,” said Zachary Sage, associate medical center director.

The significance of this honor is not lost on Veterans’ groups.

“Of all the medals, including the Medal of Honor and valor awards, it is probably one of the most prestigious and revered because of what it represents,” said Ron Chatelain, Louisiana Commander, Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Additional information about the HMT Rohna can be found here.

Recently, a local news outlet provided great coverage.

These links also list interesting facts, including John Efstis’ 1941 yearbook from West Orange, New Jersey:

Shannon Arledge & Mark Woodall are public affairs specialists at the Shreveport VA

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Published on Jul. 7, 2019

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  1. russ taylor July 10, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Bess’s death in Hemet, Riverside county, Calif in 1995 as Bess Algranti identifies her father as (michael)Efstis and mother ( theodora) Zardukas. The unique spelling of Efstis (most americanized the spelling as estes) and the specific birth date and New Jersey location pretty much points to Bess as Bessie Efstis. Her father Michael was born in Smyrna, Greece according to his 1942 draft reg. Bess had two children: David & Laura. David Mark Algranti 68yrs of 1016a Royal Oaks Dr. in Monrovia , Calif must be the nephew you speak of. Seems like living kin to me also. Are you going to present him Johns medal on Aug. 7, 2019? Purple heart day?

  2. russ taylor July 10, 2019 at 3:09 am

    It seems that johns father michael efstes registered for the draft in 1942 when he was 53 years. Also his restaurant (Lorann Diner) and address in Newark is listed. His youngest sister Bess Efstis Algranti died Jan. 7, 1995 in Riverside, Calif. Still searching the other sisters.
    Have not yet found any living kin.

    John’s mother Theodora Zardukas and his father Michael are at find-a-grave memorials 156309385 & 156309359 respective, Rosedale cemetery, Orange, Essex County, N.J. They both naturalized from Greece circa WW1. Michael was born in Smyrna, Greece and lived 1889-1973. I don’t know why they gave Turkey as a birth location in the 1940 census. Maybe some geo/political WW2 reason. Bye for now. 7/10/2019. 00:08hrs.

  3. russ taylor July 10, 2019 at 12:21 am

    Back now: 7/9/19. 21:01 hrs pacific time.
    I copied this below the dotted line from the 1930 census and forgot to include it in the earlier post.
    Like I said, I’m 77. I will now look for John’s sisters using the parents names in marriage records.
    By the way, I think the entire family went to church at St. Venantius House of the Good Shepherd in west Orange. It was also a convent of the sisters of St. Dominic. Anyway a marriage of Johns sisters could be in their church records and also N.J. records. All for now. I’m going to try and put this connection on the side because I have to get back to my geneology search tools. Bye for now.
    John Efst
    United States Census, 1930
    John Efst
    Event Type:
    Event Date:
    Event Place:
    West Orange, Essex, New Jersey, United States
    Marital Status:
    Relationship to Head of Household:
    Relationship to Head of Household:
    Birth Year (Estimated):
    New Jersey
    Father’s Birthplace:
    Mother’s Birthplace:
    Sheet Letter:
    Sheet Number:
    Household Role Sex Age Birthplace
    Michael Efst Head Male 41 Greece
    Dora Efst Wife Female 39 Greece
    Irene Efst Daughter Female 13 New Jersey
    Bessie Efst Daughter Female 11 New Jersey
    Jennie Efst Daughter Female 10 New Jersey
    John Efst Son Male 6 New Jersey
    Louis Efst Brother Male 37 Greece
    Image of John Efst in household of Michael Efst, United States Census, 1930
    View the original document. The original may contain more information than was indexed.

    Record Collection:

    United States Census, 1930

    Document Information:
    Similar Historical Records
    John Efstes
    United States Census, 1940

  4. russ taylor July 9, 2019 at 10:37 pm

    This is tough. Parents stated born in Greece in the 1930 census and Turkey in 1940. These surnames became/ what we will say:americanized and spelling is many times all over the map. Some clue to surname pronunciation may be Johns’ high school nickname was fruity. The census shows Efst in 1930 and efstes in 1940. Father Michael was proprietor of a restaurant. Residence in in 1930 was 20 Lakeside Ave. in 1940 208 Central Ave. all in West Orange, Essex County, N.J. John had three sisters ” Irene/ b. 1917, Bessie/ b. 1919, Jennie/ b. 1921. All children born in N.J. I have to sign off to fix dinner for the wife. I’m 77. I’ll try to come back to this. Would be good to check if daughters married. I believe Irene did because she is not in the 1940 house hold. Gotta go. Wifee just called. This will probably time out but I’ll come back later. Bye for now.

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