VA Central California Health Care System
Lost Wallet Returned to WWII Vet 70 Years Later
FRESNO, Calif. – These days losing a wallet can be quite frustrating, and the chances of getting it back are rare. Imagine a lifetime passing-by then receiving a letter informing you that your long lost wallet has been found in a far away country more than 6000 miles away.
When Eligio Ramos was drafted in the Army more than 70 years ago, like most young men in those days, he had a sense of patriotism. Departing from his hometown in Harlingen, Texas at age 17, he was shipped off to the battlefields of WWII and assigned to the Army’s 250th Field Artillery Unit.
Eligio’s son, Rosando Ramos recalls many of his father’s stories. "He fought with the 250th Artillery helping to liberate starving prisoners," said Rosando, while pointing to his father pictured next to an M119 Howitzer Cannon with his platoon.
Eligio served from 1942 to 1945, taking part in the in the liberation of prisoners from concentration camps in Europe. "They were coming out dying in peoples’ arms, but at least they were free," said Rosando, as he shared another of his father’s memories.
Those memories have been tucked away for the last decade, but with the recent arrival of a special package, the Ramos family came together in celebration to remember their loved ones past and present. The old vintage leather wallet, deteriorated and torn, had expanded from years of harsh weather conditions but inside a treasure trove of memorabilia remain intact.
A few weeks earlier, Eligio’s daughter, Sylvia Gonzalez, 72, was visiting with her father and going through the mail. She stumbled across a letter which was almost discarded as junk until she noticed the Austrian stamp that piqued her curiosity.
"Oh my God, I can’t believe this," said Gonzalez. "Look Dad! This letter says somebody found your wallet lost back in 1945 in Austria, and they are looking for you." Gonzalez remembers her father’s gaze and she said again, "Do you remember losing your wallet?"
Being a close-knit family, Gonzalez immediately notified the rest of the family to decide how to respond to the letter. Eligio’s grandson, Gabriel Gonzalez, was charged with reaching out to Dr. Josef Ruckhofer, of Salzburg, Austria, who discovered the wallet while working in his grandfather’s old farm house.
"It was in June this year," said Dr. Ruckhofer. "We removed some of the old wooden planks from the backside wall. When I looked to the bottom, I found this old leather wallet, a little bit dirty, but still okay. Dr. Ruckhofer further explained, "I opened the wallet and found a lot of old photographs, stamps, papers and an American Soldier’s ID card from 1945 with his name, birth year and hometown in Harlingen, Texas."
After calculating Ramos’ age at 91, "If this man is still alive, what a big surprise it would be to get his wallet back 70 years later," said Ruckhofer. This in turn led Dr. Ruckhofer to start his exhaustive search via the Internet only to discover that Ramos is a very common name. With no luck in Texas, his search expanded to the entire USA.
"I found a page with information that a Mrs. Ramos had passed away in January this year, and is survived by her husband Eligio Ramos," said Dr. Ruckhofer. "On another page, I found the address of a Mr. Ramos located in Madera, California." Being hopeful, Dr. Ruckhofer sent a letter to the address with a copy of the ID card and some photos asking if this was the right American Soldier.
Two weeks later, Dr. Ruckhofer received an email with confirmation and a photo of Eligio confirming that he had found the right person.
In keeping with his promise, Dr.Ruckhofer returned the wallet along with a special note that arrived in Madera, July 18.
"Dear Mr. Ramos! I am now sending you back your wallet you lost 70 years ago in the farm house of my grandfather in Salzburg, Austria. I am delighted that you will receive your memorabilia in good health. Best wishes and greetings from the Ruckhofer family in Salzburg, Austria."
On August 4, Eligio and family to include relatives who were only children back in 1945 gathered at VA Central California Health Care System in Fresno to share their special reunion. Eligio comes from a long line of patriotic family members who also received their healthcare here. VA Central CA is committed to serving Central Valley Veterans and fulfilling President Abraham Lincoln’s charge to care for those "who shall have borne the battle."
Eligio’s son concluded by saying, "If this wallet could talk, it would have a lot to say about history." The wallet will be displayed at the Ramos family home.
VA Public Affairs facilitated the sharing of this heartfelt story with the public. For more information, contact Cenethea Lofbom, Chief, Public Affairs at 559-228-5308 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fresno.va.gov.
# # #