Several years ago, a Purple Heart was found in Central Nyack, engraved with limited information that said “For Military Merit” and “B.J. McNamara Dec. 9, 1943.” Despite the Hudson Valley find, the medal actually belongs to a NYC family.
On the heels of a long, long search, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer presented a once-missing Purple Heart medal on Sunday to the family of the recipient, the late Bernard J. McNamara, a World War II hero and a Bronx native. The medal was found in the dirt several years ago alongside a roadway Upstate and contained no information other than that it belonged to someone by the name of B.J. McNamara on December 9, 1943.
“It is a privilege and an honor to return this Purple Heart to the family of decorated World War II veteran Bernard J. McNamara,” said Schumer. “McNamara was a true American hero and put his life on the line to serve this country. It’s unfortunate that the medal has gone missing for so long but I am humbled to have the opportunity to present it to the McNamara family. This was a true case of Nancy Drew detective work by my office, and I am grateful that my office successfully tracked down the family of its rightful owner so that Bernard’s legacy and story of heroism can live on.”
Schumer’s office explained that more than 1,000 McNamaras served in World War II, and dozens with the initials “B.J.” Schumer’s office worked hard to track down the medal’s owner and, after much research, found that it belonged to Bernard J. McNamara. Unfortunately, Bernard J. McNamara passed away in 1975, but Schumer’s office successfully tracked down his next of kin.
Schumer presented the medal to Bernard J. McNamara’s son, Brian; daughter, Catherine; grandson, Matthew; and granddaughter, Christine. Schumer was also joined by Col.Peter Sicoli, commander, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton as well as Anthony DelRegno, of C.R. and R.O. Blauvelt American Legion Post 310 in Nyack.
The Purple Heart is awarded to service members who were wounded or killed at the hands of the enemy. It was first established in 1932 on the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. Since that time, approximately 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded.
Several years ago, a Purple Heart—inscribed with the words “For Military Merit” and “B.J. McNamara Dec. 9, 1943”—was found on the ground along West Broadway in Rockland County. The medal was turned over to C.R. and R.O. Blauvelt American Legion Post 310 in Nyack. According to The Journal News, a local historian had been searching for its rightful owner. However, there is no comprehensive list of Purple Heart recipients available.
Earlier this month, Schumer’s office began to search for the owner of the medal. After much research, Schumer’s office was able to track down a Bernard J. McNamara, born on Sept. 24, 1909. According to the U.S. Census of 1940, Bernard lived in the Bronx.
In April 1942, Bernard enlisted at Fort Jay Governors Island in the Branch Immaterial—Warrant Officers—as the grade of private. His enlistment was for the duration of World War II. Shortly after enlisting, on Dec. 2, 1942, Bernard married Ellen McNamara.
On Dec. 9, 1943, Bernard was injured as result of German artillery fires during a defensive stand at Monte Sammurco, and was subsequently awarded a Purple Heart. On Jan. 22, 1944, Bernard was reported to the International Committee of the Red Cross as being at Stalag 3B near Fuerstenberg, Prussia, where more than 4,000 other American POWs were held. He was captured by Nazi Germany while serving in Italy, and was imprisoned for at least 472 days, according to the Red Cross.
Upon returning to America, Bernard and Ellen lived in New York where they had two children. Bernard was a devoted employee of Con Edison, working there for over 45 years. After retiring, he and Ellen moved to Vermont. According to his death certificate, Bernard passed away on April 6, 1975, in Chittenden County, Vermont.
According to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, Bernard J. McNamara received a Purple Heart. Schumer’s office was able to connect Bernard’s service number to the Purple Heart date of Dec. 9, 1943, with the military. Upon finding this information, Schumer’s office contacted Bernard’s daughter, son and grandson. According to Bernard’s son, Brian, who lives in the Bronx, his father was shot while retreating from the battle in Italy in 1943 and received the Purple Heart before becoming a POW. Also, according to Brian, the medal was given to children in the family to play with after which it was lost. It may have ended up in Rockland because the family had relatives in Nanuet.
Schumer also presented the family with two additional awards that have been reissued to Bernard J. McNamara: the Bronze Star Medal and the Infantryman Badge. Schumer said that, unfortunately, those two awards had also gone missing, and Schumer’s office asked that they be reissued for the family.
The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to any person with the Armed Forces of the United States who, after Dec. 6, 1941, distinguishes himself by heroic or meritorious achievement. The Infantryman Badge is a military award given to personnel in the grade of colonel or below with an infantry or special-forces military occupational specialty who have satisfactorily performed duty while assigned as members of an infantry/special forces unit or brigade when the unit was engaged in active ground combat during any period after Dec. 6, 1941.