Last week, a special event occurred: Sgt. George Sahlmann’s Purple Heart medal was donated to the Museum by his great-niece.
The Purple Heart is a US military decoration awarded to those who have been wounded or killed while serving, as well as to those who display bravery and valor during war.
A donation ceremony was held at the Museum, organized by Purple Hearts Reunited, a non-profit organization whose mission is to reunite veterans and their families with their misplaced military medals.
Sgt. Sahlmann was born September 28, 1910 in Neuenwalde, Hanover, Germany. Not much is known about his early life, but in 1937, at the age of 27, he was able to escape the beginnings of Nazi aggression by stowing away on a luxury cruise ship called the SS Columbus. This ship docked at Pier 86 in New York Harbor, where he was listed as a “deserting seaman” for not having a ticket but was allowed to stay. He found work as a barber and lived in Brooklyn.
In 1943, the same year he applied to become a US citizen, he enlisted in the United States Army and was assigned to the 35th Infantry Division. During his service in combat he also worked as an interpreter, overseeing a German prisoner of war stockade, and he was wounded three times. Sgt. Sahlmann received numerous decorations and awards for his service during WWII, such as the Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, and the Purple Heart.
Before enlisting, Sgt. Sahlmann married Ethel W. Suden in May of 1941. They were married until his death in 2006. Ethel died two years later in 2008. After Ethel’s death, Sgt. Sahlmann’s medals were dispersed. Purple Hearts Reunited was able to rescue them from a military collector online.
Sgt. Sahlmann’s Purple Heart and some of his other WWII medals are now a part of the Museum’s collection.