To commemorate her father’s World War II service, Lisa Hogan spent years tracking his military records so that he would qualify for enrollment in the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.
But while prodding government officials for information about her father — whose arm was shattered during the Battle of the Bulge — Hogan realized that his eldest brother, killed in action in the Philippines, was never awarded the Purple Heart.
So was born the Eastport resident’s 10-year effort to set the record straight about the uncle she grew up hearing stories about but never knew, and to secure for him the heart-shaped George Washington cameo that since 1942 has been available to all combat-wounded U.S. military personnel.
“I wanted to honor him and recognize him,” said Hogan, 54, a Mineola native who works in the human resources field. “It was important to me as I did all this research on my father to get to my uncle as well. It gave me insight into the man he was.”
Hogan’s late father, Tec 4 Salvatore Ciaburri, survived fighting in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest but had his arm shot up in the first days of the Battle of the Bulge. Captured on Dec. 20, 1944, he spent nearly the rest of the war as a prisoner in the infamous Stalag IX-B at Bad Orb, Germany.
Among other citations, his 1946 honorable discharge papers noted his Combat Infantry Badge and a campaign ribbon with two Bronze Stars.
And a Purple Heart.
While Salvatore Ciaburri was fighting in Europe, two older brothers — Amilcare and Guido — were fighting in the Philippines.
Guido made it home. The brother they knew as Mickey did not.
Sgt. Amilcare Ciaburri was serving with the 198th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion when he was killed on May 24, 1945, during the seven-month Battle of Luzon in the Philippines.
The battle decimated Japan’s air power. The Axis power had to rely on kamikaze attacks for the duration of the war, and Japan’s ability to support ground troops in the Pacific was ended.
Nearly a quarter of a million Japanese troops perished in the seven-month struggle. More than 10,000 Americans were killed.
Hogan, the youngest of six children, was 16 when her father died of cancer in 1978. Her uncle was 29 when he was killed.
By the time she began researching her uncle’s war accomplishments, his records had been destroyed long before, in the 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire in St. Louis. The midnight fire, which burned for more than four days, obliterated 80 percent of all records of Army personnel discharged before 1960.
An estimated 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been issued to U.S. troops, according to Anita Pidala, director of the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, a New York State Parks facility in New Windsor. But only about 10 percent of all Purple Heart recipients are enrolled at the museum, because without a Defense Department database of those awarded the medallion, the museum relies on individuals or their next of kin to provide documentation proving that a prospective inductee indeed received it.
Documentation can be difficult to come by, said Peter Bedrossian, the museum’s program director.
Battlefield commanders often granted the medal to subordinates during the thick of combat, meaning records could be lost or never were recorded in the first place. Bandaged troops sometimes were rushed back into action before the niceties of battlefield awards could be administered. And the wounds of captured GIs who healed in their months or years of captivity sometimes were overlooked.
“We don’t necessarily see their scars, or their disabilities,” Bedrossian said. “The Purple Heart is a way of recognizing that people were physically affected by their experience.”
The military has provisions for awarding the Purple Heart and other medals retroactively. But with each passing year, memories fade and witnesses die, making the process of proving that someone was wounded in battle increasingly difficult.
In addition, veterans who returned home often were eager to put the stark terror of war behind them. Many had little interest in reliving incidents that had left them wounded and terrorized, and that may have resulted in the death of platoon mates.
Also, the next of kin of combat fatalities often don’t apply because they don’t know their loved ones are eligible.
But Hogan knew.
Using a variety of research sources, she was able to prove that her uncle had indeed perished in the Philippines combat, making him eligible.
But she faced a new hurdle when she was told that only next of kin could apply for a medal on behalf of a dead soldier. She turned to her local member of Congress, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), for help.
On July 29, 2015, the Defense Department posthumously granted the Purple Heart to Sgt. Amilcare Ciaburri.
Stories of kinfolk can serve as family glue, bonding siblings and descendants who otherwise might drift apart, said Hogan’s eldest sibling, who was named in honor of his slain uncle.
Mickey Ciaburri, himself a former Marine Corps sergeant who served 13 months in Vietnam beginning in mid-1968, said his father died at 53, long before life’s twilight, when once-reticent veterans sometimes unburden themselves of war memories long buried.
He keeps his father’s Purple Heart medal, burial flag and other military artifacts on display in the family room of his home in Purcellville, Virginia. But he said it is only through his sister’s research that he knows anything of the war experience of his father or his uncle.
“Everything we know about my father, 95 percent is from Lisa’s research,” he said.
“The main thing is I’ll be able to pass this on to my grandchildren. They are going to know their family’s experience. It’s something we’ll pass on to them, especially on this Memorial Day weekend.”