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Four civilian meteorologists who died during a U-boat attack in World War II posthumously received Purple Heart medals on Thursday.

Lester S. Fodor, George F. Kubach, Edward Weber and Luther H. Brady volunteered to serve on a Coast Guard ship in 1942. Kubach and Weber were 24; Fodor and Brady were 27.

The ship went on weather patrol in the North Atlantic, as NPR's Joe Palca reports for our Newscast division:

"According to historical records, in August 1942, the Coast Guard cutter Muskeget left Boston Harbor headed for the North Atlantic where it was to collect weather data."The ship's last weather report was radioed in on Sept. 9. After that, the ship disappeared."The military later determined that the ship was sunk by enemy fire."

The ship's officers and crew received posthumous Purple Hearts. The civilian weather forecasters were eligible for the medal but never received it, The Washington Post reports.

As host Ari Shapiro explains on All Things Considered, the oversight was discovered because of a retired mapmaker named Robert Pendleton, who found a German U-Boat captain's diary that spoke of the sinking of the Muskeget.

"Automatically it made these civilians that were onboard people they owed Purple Hearts to," Pendleton says. "And the NOAA people looked at it and decided, 'Yes, OK, now we can give them their Purple Hearts.' "

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