Lisa Dabrowski was recently browsing through different items at a yard sale at a home in Southold Town when she spotted something unusual.
“I love military history and I saw what I recognized to be a Purple Heart,” she said. “I opened the case it was in and there was a name inside the cover. ‘R.S. Hollaman.’ In the case was his Purple Heart. I could not believe what I was looking at. My first thought was, who is Mr. Hollaman?”
Ms. Dabrowski is the public information officer at American Legion Post 861 in Mattituck. Her love of military history – and her respect for members of her family who served, including a grandfather who fought in World War I – helped inform her that the Purple Heart sitting on a table at a yard sale was special.
“When I saw the Purple Heart, I knew it was something very important,” she said. “I respect it and what it means. Seeing it at the yard sale, it really tugged at me to find a way to honor it and Mr. Hollaman, even though I had no idea who he was.”
Ms. Dabrowski said she prefers the exact location of the Southold home where she found the Purple Heart be kept private.
Research by Ms. Dabrowski and some friends uncovered the first clues: Robert Stuart Hollaman was born in March 1923, in Toronto, Canada. On Feb. 17, 1943, he enlisted in the U.S Army and in June 1945, probably in the Philippines, he was wounded in battle. A hospital admission card found on Ancestry.com shows he was admitted to a hospital in June 1945, two months before World War II ended. He was discharged six months later, in December.
The admission card shows a series of critical battle-field wounds from the fragments of an exploding artillery shell. When he was discharged, he was, as the admission card states, “invalided home.”
“Home,” according to a draft registration card, was Patchogue. That card, also found on Ancestry.com, shows him living on Rider Avenue and working at a local King Kullen. His mother, Leila Hollaman, is also listed at that address.
“We knew our goal was to find out as much as we could about this gentleman, including could we find a member of his family,” Ms. Dabrowski said.
More research answered one key question: Mr. Hollaman died in April 2010. The mission now was to focus on finding any family member. If that failed, Ms. Dabrowski said, the Purple Heart would be mounted inside a frame and kept in a place of honor inside the Legion Post.
“We know this medal’s great meaning,” said John Ribeiro, the Post’s past commander. “We know it meant this man was wounded fighting for his country. He sacrificed for his country. Not everyone understands what ‘sacrifice’ means anymore. But it meant a lot to us.”
More sleuthing brought a great reward: Mr. Hollaman’s daughter, Lynn Bryson, was living in Seattle. The Post reached out to her with news of the discovery of her father’s Purple Heart.
“I fell apart,” Ms. Bryson said in an interview. “I was totally overwhelmed. This was my father speaking to me from the grave.”
Growing up, on Long Island and in Florida, Ms. Bryson knew her father had been wounded in the war. But since he never talked about it, she knew no details. And she never knew until the phone rang in her house that her father had been awarded a Purple Heart.
“I never knew that,” she said. “This is an unbelievable story. He was a kind and loving father – and now I will have this of his.”
She said the Post will give her the medal. When it arrives in the mail, and she sees her father’s name inside the box, “I will break down again. It’s all astonishing. It’s unbelievable. I am so honored.”