A surprising family legacy: 65 years after the war ended, this WWII identity bracelet crosses an ocean and finds its way to the daughter of its owner. / Michael A. Schwarz/USA WEEKEND
"I don’t believe it," Barbara Price thought after getting off the phone with Kathleen Davis of Riverside, Calif. Davis had called Price in Albany, Ga., to tell her she was in possession of a World War II identity bracelet that once belonged to Price’s father.
How Earl Richards’ WWII identity bracelet found its way back to his daughter, 65 years after he served in the Navy (in the Pacific Theater from 1944 to 1946) and 34 years after his death, is the stuff of novels. The silver bracelet has “from Mother” inscribed on one side, along with Richards’ name and military number. On the other side, Richards scratched “Okinawa” and “Tokyo Bay,” two of the battles in which he fought.
At some point, the bracelet disappeared. It resurfaced in 1985 when a boy found it on the beach near Ramsgate, England. He gave it to Karl Troop, a teacher and history buff. Troop recognized the piece as WWII-era, and probably American. For several years, whenever he visited the U.S., he’d ask local veterans organizations for help finding its owner. Nothing panned out, and eventually, Troop put the bracelet in his late wife’s jewelry box and forgot about it. This summer, when looking for a piece of jewelry for his granddaughter, Troop saw the bracelet and tried again to find its owner.
Across the pond.
In search of clues, Troop e-mailed Kathleen Davis, his wife’s distant American cousin, on July 3. Davis, a member of Ancestry.com, got to work. She was able to pin Richards’ military number to his ship. From there, she determined his hometown of enlistment. She then traced the family tree to Richards’ granddaughter, whom she contacted via Facebook on July 5. She, in turn, put Davis in touch with Price.
Though she knew the bracelet would have sentimental value for Price, Davis could never have guessed just how much. Price’s father, who had sole custody, gave his daughter up for adoption when she was only 2 years old. Though she saw him sporadically over the years, she never really knew him. Her father’s troubled life ended in suicide years ago, and Price was left without any sort of connection to her roots. “The bracelet has no monetary value, but to me it’s worth everything,” Price says. “It’s the only piece of my father I have.”
A link to the past.
Like Price, many Americans value items from the WWII era. “They give us a piece of heritage from a generation that is disappearing. Collecting these items is one way of protecting their legacy,” says Sean Pate of Ancestry.com.
Price, who turned her own turbulent childhood into a happy ending by fostering many children herself, plans to frame the bracelet in a shadowbox. She feels the connection to her past every time she sees the silvery chain. “It’s like my dad is telling me everything is going to be OK,” she says.