WWII veteran’s family reunited with Purple Heart missing for decades

Members of Staff Sgt. Bernard J. McNamara's family were reunited with his Purple Heart on Sunday, decades after it was lost in South Bronx.
Members of Staff Sgt. Bernard J. McNamara’s family were reunited with his Purple Heart on Sunday, decades after it was lost in South Bronx. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer

A long-lost Purple Heart finally found its way home, thanks to some old-fashioned detective work.

The family of a World War II veteran was presented with their loved one’s medal on Sunday — decades after it had been lost. World War II Staff Sgt. Bernard J. McNamara’s family was reunited with the token after a painstaking search that began when the loss was brought to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s attention earlier this month.

“This was a true case of Nancy Drew detective work,” Schumer said.

The medal was likely lost decades ago on a day when some kids in the family were getting antsy, according to Catherine Birong, McNamara’s daughter. “The last time I remember seeing it, they were playing soldier in the South Bronx,” Birong said, standing alongside her brother.

She added that she never even realized the medal was gone, assuming that an extended family member was holding onto it.

When the medal surfaced on a street in Rockland County a few years ago, bearing the inscription “B.J. McNamara Dec. 9, 1943,” it posed a puzzling case to locals.

There were thousands of McNamara’s who served in World War II. Beyond that, nearly two million Purple Hearts have been presented since World War II, and there’s no comprehensive database of recipients.

A local newspaper put the puzzle on Schumer’s radar, and with the help of a nearby military post and a town historian, Schumer’s office was able to uncover McNamara’s first name. From there they tracked down his daughter, son and grandson, all of whom were present on Sunday.

McNamara lived in the Bronx, where his family resides now, and was sent to fight in Italy after enlisting in the army in 1942.

He was hit by a piece of shrapnel during a battle at Monte Sammurco, and awarded the Purple Heart in 1943, a military decoration presented to those wounded or killed while serving in the military.

“Nobody’s family wanted to see [a Purple Heart] come home without their loved one attached to it,” said Anthony DelRegno, the Commander of C.R. and R.O. Blauvelt Post 310, the military post that helped find the rightful owner of the medal.

McNamara was captured by the Nazis after his injury, where he was held as a prisoner of war for more than 15 months. He eventually made it back to the States and died in 1975 at age 65.

“My dad was a very quiet, humble man,” Birong said. “This is truly very special.”

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