A deceased World War II Coast Guard Veteran has finally been awarded a Purple Heart Medal for an incident that occurred nearly 76 years ago.
Arturo Antonsanti moved to the US from Puerto Rico at 18-years-old and enlisted in the Coast Guard at 21 after the US entered WWII. He served on the Coast Guard-manned destroyer escort USS Leopold as a seaman first class, escorting supply convoys across the Atlantic Ocean during the war. On March 9th, 1944 off the coast of Iceland, a German submarine hit the Leopold with a torpedo, breaking the ship in half before it sunk.
199 crew members were aboard the ship at the time of the impact, but only 28, including Antonsanti, survived the frigid waters following the incident, reported VANtage Point.
Following the accident, Antonsanti went back to sea, serving for another six years before returning to the US. He spent the remainder of his life in Tampa Bay, Florida, where he worked at the Post Office for many years. Antonsanti passed away in 2008 at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa. He had been a patient at both Haley and Bay Pines VA Medical Center for years.
After reading “Never to Return,” a book about the incident which describes a Leopold survivor being presented with a Purple Heart, Antonsanti’s son-in-law, David Weis, decided to start the application process for a Purple Heart for Antonsanti.
“At the end of that book they talked about survivors are eligible for the Purple Heart, so I started researching it,” Weis said. “Like anything, it takes a little time and research, acknowledging that yes, as a survivor, he’s eligible, things like that. That’s how it all started.”
Nine months later, on February 4th, Antonsanti’s family received the medal.
Following the ceremony, his grandson described him as a man of few words.
“I was younger when I did approach him and ask him,” Nelson Antonsanti said.
“’Hey grandpa, I heard you were on a ship. Do you want to tell me about it?’ Remember, he was a man of few words, so he just told me it was cold. I believe it was off the coast of Iceland in March, so it would be an understatement to say the least.”
“He’d be thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” Anabel, Antonsanti’s daughter, said.
“He’d be thrilled and my mom would be, too.”