The family of a deceased World War II Coast Guard Veteran received something recently that was long overdue – a Purple Heart Medal for an incident that happened in 1944.
Capt. Matthew Thompson, commanding officer of U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, presented the medal to the family of Arturo Antonsanti during an all-hands call Feb. 4. Antonsanti passed away in 2008 at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa after having been a patient at both Haley and Bay Pines VA Medical Center for years.
The Armed Forces awards Purple Heart Medals to members wounded or killed while serving.
Arturo Antonsanti came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico at the age of 18. He enlisted in the Coast Guard at 21 after the U.S. entered the war. He served as a seaman first class on the Coast Guard-manned destroyer escort USS Leopold, which escorted supply convoys across the Atlantic Ocean during World War II. On March 9, 1944 while off the coast of Iceland, a German submarine torpedoed the Leopold, which broke in half before sinking.
Of the 199 crew members aboard the Leopold, only 28 – including Antonsanti – survived the sinking. According to published reports, many of his crewmates died from exposure in the icy North Atlantic waters.
Antonsanti ended up back at sea after the sinking, serving a total of six years before returning to the Tampa Bay area after the war. He worked the Post Office for many years before passing away.
According to “Never to Return,” a book about the incident written by the son of another Leopold survivor, the Coast Guard presented the first Purple Heart to a survivor in 2011. Antonsanti’s son-in-law, David Weis, read the book and decided to start the application process to have his wife’s father receive one as well.
“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.”
Receiving the medal
It took about nine months for the paperwork to finalize before Antonsanti’s family received the medal. Anabel Weis, his daughter; her husband David; Antonsanti’s grandson, Nelson Antonsanti; and his wife, Daisy Antonsanti, a ames A. Haley VA Hospital staff member, received the award.
Antonsanti’s grandson remembered him as a quiet man who never really talked about his wartime service.
“I was younger when I did approach him and ask him,” Nelson 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.”
Anabel Weis said she thought her father would have enjoyed the award ceremony.
“He’d be thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” Anabel said. “He’d be thrilled and my mom would be, too.”
Ed Drohan is a public affairs specialist, at the James A. Haley VA Hospital, in Tampa, Florida. He is a retired Air Force master sergeant who has reported from Somalia, Haiti, New Orleans (post-Katrina) and Afghanistan.