Lisa Dabrowski uncovered a long-lost Purple Heart medal at a yard sale in April in Southold that belonged to late Army veteran Robert Hollaman, who was wounded in battle in World War II. His daughter Lynn Bryson attended a ceremony in Riverhead on Sunday to receive the award. Newsday TV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

When she finally saw the Purple Heart that had been awarded to her father, Lynn Bryson let out a gasp.

Bryson, 71, had never seen it before. She had not even known it existed until a few weeks ago.

But Sunday, after a long search for the rightful heir to her dad's long-lost medal found her, Bryson was presented with it in a ceremony in front of 18 relatives and two dozen others at the Polish Hall in Riverhead.

The Purple Heart, a medal given to service members wounded or killed by enemy action, was awarded to her father, Robert Stuart Hollaman, who died in 2010, for his service in the Army during World War II. He was wounded in an explosion in the Philippines in 1945, three months before the war ended.

“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” said Bryson, who traveled from her home in Seattle to Long Island this weekend for the ceremony. “I feel very privileged to be here today. Grateful. And I feel Dad's presence here today also.”

Lynn Holloman Bryson, holds the Purple Heart that her late...

Lynn Holloman Bryson, holds the Purple Heart that her late father Robert received, during a ceremony at the Polish Hall in Riverhead on Sunday Credit: James Carbone

Her heart, she said, was filled with gratitude for those who not only found the medal but also tracked her down, returning a piece of her father’s history that was unknown to her.

“The ceremony is so amazing. He would’ve been a little embarrassed because he was a quiet kind of guy,” Bryson said. “We can’t thank everyone enough for the time and effort that they put into finding Dad [and] me.”

The medal’s discovery began in April when Lisa Dabrowski, public information officer for the Mattituck American Legion Post 861, went to a yard sale in Southold. There, she came across the Purple Heart, which was being sold for $100.

“As soon as I saw it, I knew what it was and I knew what it took to earn one of them,” Dabrowski said Sunday.

Since its creation in 1782, more than 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded to service members as of 2021, according to The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.

Dabrowski contacted fellow Legion members about buying it for the American Legion, only to find out the family hosting the yard sale — who asked to remain anonymous — decided to donate it to Post 861, she told Newsday before the ceremony.

The Legion asked Kristen Asher-O’Rourke, who owns Jamesport Art and Framing, to frame the medal.

“It's not every day you're at work and a Purple Heart shows up at your desk. Even more rare when you have no idea who it belongs to,” she said Sunday. “So immediately, I knew this was something special.”

The medal came with an incomplete name: his last name and the initials of his first and middle names. Asher-O’Rourke said she began to research the medal and through Ancestry.com she learned more about Hollaman. One relative after another, she found Bryson, his only daughter.

“It took a lot of Googling, ancestry searches [and] phone calls to Canada,” she said. “I'm so happy to be a part of it. I frame a lot of things every day, but this is the more meaningful thing. It's a piece of someone's family history. … And this is something that's going to live on.”

Hollaman was born on March 17, 1923, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and his family moved to Patchogue when he was 4. He worked for the grocer King Kullen in his teens and as a tree surgeon. When he was 19, Hollaman wanted to enlist in the armed forces as World War II raged overseas, his daughter said. He sought to join the Navy but could not because he was colorblind, according to Bryson. He enlisted instead in the Army in 1943.

Hollaman was struck in his right hip by shrapnel on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, according to an article published on July 12, 1945, in the Patchogue Advance. The article, and other newspaper clippings, were found by Donald Bayles, an Army veteran who fought in the same war, even enlisting at the same time as Hollaman. Bayles attended the ceremony Sunday.

Bryson said doctors discovered during surgery that her father had only one kidney and had to operate around it to save his life. The shrapnel remained in Hollaman’s body, leading to three hip replacement surgeries, the last one when he was in his 70s, Bryson said.

Despite the pain of war wounds, Bryson said her father, an electrical lineman after the war, had a sense of humor and a positive attitude toward life.

“Dad was a kind, loving, gentle, happy man. Always smiling,” said Bryson, her voice breaking with emotions. “He was a free spirit. He was born on St. Patrick's Day in Toronto, and he thought it was great that everybody always celebrated his birthday.”

Bryson said her father never mentioned the Purple Heart.

“My guess is that he came home after the war, he gave the medal to his mother, and he never spoke about it,” Bryson said.

She said it likely was given to an aunt after her grandmother’s death, and after the aunt died the medal was packed up with her belongings and sent away. Both her grandmother and aunt lived in Orient.

However it was lost, to finally see her father's medal, and reconnect with her relatives on Long Island and Canada in the process, has been the journey of a lifetime.

“It was a miracle they found me,” she said.

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