European treasure hunter reunites American veteran with the bracelet he lost in 1945
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Seventy-six years ago, during World War II, a precious possession vanished from an American soldier fighting in Europe. Now, at age 95, he's been reunited with a piece of personal history. Colorado Public Radio's Stina Sieg brings us this encore story of a lost and found that crosses continents and decades.
STINA SIEG, BYLINE: Joe Esquibel was only 18 when he bought the small silver bracelet in Fort Bliss, Texas, during Army basic training. He had a signature, J.E. Esquibel, engraved on the front. And on the back, he used a nail to scratch his sweetheart's name.
JOE ESQUIBEL: Lydia.
SIEG: Lydia, the woman he would later marry. Soon after, Joe was sent overseas. One day in 1945, in what was then known as Czechoslovakia, he discovered one of his bags was missing.
ESQUIBEL: And they stole my items that I had in the duffle bag.
SIEG: The bracelet included. There was no time to investigate. Joe would be awarded a Purple Heart in the war. He and Lydia moved to Grand Junction, Colo., and had four kids.
ESQUIBEL: And I just forgot about it, you know?
SIEG: Until this October, when Petr Svihovec's metal detector beeped as he stood over the site of a former POW camp. He'd never found anything too interesting before.
PETR SVIHOVEC: (Through interpreter) So I started to dig, and I found a U.S. pin. And after that, I found a silver bracelet, on which I noticed that there was a kind of signature.
SIEG: A signature he could not read. But the woman's name scratched on the back was clear.
SIEG: Petr enlisted the help of a Facebook treasure-hunting group, found Lydia's obituary and then got the help of the U.S. Embassy, the Marines and, finally, a Czech-speaking woman in Grand Junction. Soon, Joe and his daughter Jolene were opening a package sent via diplomatic mail.
JOLENE ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: Is mom's name on the back?
ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: Yeah. Did you do that?
ESQUIBEL: Yeah, I did that.
SIEG: Jolene says she's grateful to everyone who helped get the bracelet back - in Colorado, the Czech Republic and beyond.
ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: I honestly think that my mom made this happen. Our faith is very strong.
SIEG: Joe's message for Petr.
ESQUIBEL: Well, I thank you many times.
SIEG: And Petr says that ever since Czech media picked up the story, he keeps getting recognized by strangers who ask him to recount this whole unbelievable journey.
SVIHOVEC: (Through interpreter) Well, it is real. If I would see it in the movie, I would say, oh, what a nice story; I wish that would happen in reality. But this really did happen. And it is real, and it's not a movie.
SIEG: For NPR news, I'm Stina Sieg.
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