Wallet lost in France during WWII is returned to owner
Published: December 5, 2006 | 5140th good news item since 2003
A couple of week’s ago, Ray Heilwagen received a very unlikely telephone call.
A man from the Chicago area had found his wallet, but this was not just an ordinary lost and found act of kindness. The property was lost more than 60 years ago. [How to Find Lost Objects]
The wallet wasn’t even lost in the U.S. It turned up missing while Heilwagen was stationed in France during World War II.
The phone call was from the son of another WWII veteran who had found Heilwagen’s wallet. The son called and told Heilwagen how the wallet ended up with him.
“He went on to explain that his father was a veteran of the war and found the billfold, but didn’t know how to return it to me at that time,” said Heilwagen. “He took the billfold home, put it in a drawer and just stored it.”
After the veteran died, his son was looking through his things and discovered the wallet. He decided to find its owner. “He immediately got on the Internet and somehow he found my correct name and address,” said Heilwagen.
“I was in total shock. I could hardly believe it,” said Heilwagen of the phone call. “That is quite unusual.”
After the phone call, the son arranged to send the billfold and its contents to Mexico.
The wallet, which Heilwagen received last week, held everything that had been lost. Some of the contents included his social security card, pictures of his family, French money, receipts, postage stamps, and the address of a friend.
Heilwagen can almost pin down when he lost the billfold. In 1944, Heilwagen was stationed in France as part of the 79th infantry division. During one particular battle, he was injured.
“There was a lot of small arms fire and then a German mortar exploded. I got some shrapnel from that mortar in my right leg. There also was a small river there and it blew me into this river,” remembered Heilwagen.
He was pulled to safety, but medics were not able to reach him until after dark. It was late afternoon at the time.
“I remember at the time, during the time I had waiting, getting out the billfold and looking at the pictures. So, I know I had it at that time.”
The injured soldier was then transferred to the field hospital by jeep. After cleaning the wounds, giving pain medication, and warming up the cold soldier, they transferred him to a French hospital. In this location, they removed the shrapnel from his leg.
Shortly before he was going to be transferred again, Heilwagen discovered his billfold was missing. “Between that point and coming off the battlefield, I lost it. I don’t know for sure where,” he said.
The loss, while inconvenient, was not a huge problem for Heilwagen. Save for getting a new social security card upon return to the U.S., the lost billfold was dismissed from his mind.
“I thought it was gone and I didn’t even give it another thought,” he said.
Heilwagen, a Hannibal native, retuned home in 1946. He received a Purple Heart for his injury and a Bronze Star for bravery. During his time in Europe, he participated in three major battles, Normandy, Northern France, and Rhineland.
“I went back to Hannibal and celebrated quite a bit,” said Heilwagen. He married in November of 1946 to Dorothy Jackson and eventually began working for Southwestern Bell. This caused his relocation to Mexico where he retired 39 years later.
The return of the billfold was meaningful for Heilwagen and he hopes soon to again speak to the man who returned it.”I’d like to thank him again for being so thoughtful and kind to take the time out to find me and send this to me.”