There wasn’t a dry eye in the house during the early evening of August 7, when “Eight on Seven,” a Purple Heart Day event, was hosted at the New York City Fire Museum on Spring Street in Manhattan. Decades after the deaths of eight servicemen (one who fought in Vietnam and others who fought in WWII,) the Purple Heart Medals they had earned that somehow had been lost were “brought home” to their families.

(L-R) Shreveport VA Associate Director Zachary Sage; Founder Purple Hearts Reunited Major Zachariah Fike, Nephew David Algranti, and Niece Joyce Bailey.

Most family members who attended the event did not know the entire story behind each loved one receiving a Purple Heart. Joyce Bailey and her brother David Algranti, who live in California, did not know that Private First Class John M. Efstis, had even received this high honor for his military service. They had never met their uncle, from New Jersey, who died in 1943. They had, however, grown up knowing about the absence his loss had left in their mother and grandmother’s hearts. “They were always waiting for him to come home,” said Ms. Bailey. Wartime news was classified, and it took decades before the public knew over 1,000 troops lost their lives when the British troop transport ship HMT Rohna was attacked and destroyed by German aircraft. PFC Efstis was among those tragically lost.

Although the family eventually learned in the 1940’s about how Efstis had died, the story about his Purple Heart medal only emerged in the months after March 2019 when the medal was found outside Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, La, and handed over to a volunteer at the information desk. Once turned over to the medical center, the medal was shared with a member of the public affairs staff.

The Purple Heart was discussed with Associate Director Zachary Sage, who immediately understood the prominence of this discovery. “I placed the medal for safekeeping in the medical center safe,” and thus the journey home.

Sage and others consulted with Purple Hearts Reunited after a discussion with the commander of Louisiana’s Military Order of the Purple Heart. Major Zachary Fike, founder of Purple Hearts Reunited, shared emotional information about the medal.

Fike is a 21-year Army Veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fike is untiring in his commitment to locating families of Purple Heart recipients and reuniting lost Purple Heart medals to families. He said he receives about 300 medals a year that are found in storage boxes, in police raids, and antique shops and delivered to his organization. Mr. Algranti received a message that Major Fike had called him regarding his uncle’s medal, and although concerned that “this might be a scam,” he was reassured by Major Fike that indeed his uncle’s Purple Heart medal had been found. Plans then were made to come to the NYC event. American Airlines donated the plane tickets for relatives involved in the Purple Hearts Reunited event. The stories of the Purple Heart recipients were read as if the Veteran had come back to tell their story.

Johnny would be proud today, and so would be the seven other Veterans recognized during the evening ceremony. Johnny knows he is not forgotten.

Claudie Benjamin, a public affairs officer at the VA New York Harbor Health Care System, and Shreveport VA Public Affairs Officer Shannon Arledge collaborated to cover this story.

Share this story

Published on Aug. 9, 2019

Estimated reading time is 2.9 min.

Views to date: 124


  1. Michael Murphy August 16, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    Incidentally, the Rohna was sunk by a German air-to-surface rocket the day after Thanksgiving, 1943.

  2. Michael Murphy August 16, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    My cousin,Billy Hewitt, also died aboard the Rohna. The US government was reticent to discuss advances by the Germans in rocketry, hence the long silence.

  3. Joyce Bailey August 14, 2019 at 12:11 am

    Thank you for mentioning the HMT Rohna. I hope more people will learn about what happened on November 26, 1943 when the Rohna was sunk by a German guided missile. More than a thousand lives lost. One clarification—my grandfather knew that Johnny was killed because he did receive the Purple Heart. However he kept it secret from my grandmother. She kept up hope of his return. That’s how she survived.

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • On the National Day of Service, NCA invites family, friends and volunteers to visit its Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM) to post photos and tributes.

  • Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Ming Chang, who was the first naturalized Asian American to reach flag rank in the Navy.

  • Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Franklin Douglas “Doug” Miller, a Green Beret in the Vietnam War who was awarded a Medal of Honor, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, six Purple Hearts and an Air Medal for his service.