From KOMU’s “Sarah’s Stories – Wallet Memories” (KOMU: 4 January 2007):
MEXICO [Misouri] – A local resident enjoyed an early, unexpected Christmas present.
Ray Heilwagen, an 83-year-old World War II veteran, has a story that stretches from France to his front lawn.
During war, a wallet can be a soldier’s most prized pocession, full of photos and other family memories. Like many veterans, Heilwagen carried his wallet on the battlefields of northern France in 1944.
Just after D-Day, a mortar shell hit him in the leg, and the powerful explosion blew him into a nearby river. Heilwagen survived, but he lost his wallet between the battlefield and the tent hospital.
Then, last month, Heilwagen got a phone call.
“[He] wanted to know if I’d ever served in France during World War II. I said, ‘Yeah’ and he said, ‘Did you ever lose a billfold?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I sure did.’ It just kind of shocked me,” Heilwagen remembered.
“I didn’t even know that he lost his wallet, so he calls and says that this man that he doesn’t know calls and says he found his wallet from the service some 60 years later,” added granddaughter Kayla Sudbrock.
“And then he went on to tell me that his father was a World War II veteran and he found the wallet but he didn’t know where I was to return it,” said Heilwagen. “So he took it home with him and stuck it in a drawer some place where it’s been for 62 years.”
Steve Breitenstein of Illinois used the Internet to locate Heilwagen in Mexico. Decades after he lost it on the battlefield, the wallet arrived at Heilwagen’s house in mint condition, with his original Social Security card, his money and memories still intact.
The fact that he got his wallet back after six decades is amazing, but so is the timing because the Illinois man found it on Nov. 11.
“Finding it on that day is so ironic,” said Sudbrock, “that he found his wallet from the service on Veterans’ Day.”