Skip to comments.Echo of a Christmas past
Posted on 12/23/2001 9:02:19 AM PST by WIMom
All 10 are from Port Washington and the surrounding area. Boyhood pals. They're assigned to various units of the 3rd Armored Division and stationed in England to prepare for the Normandy invasion.
The dollar bill is carried by Ralph Ansay, one of the signers, for the rest of the war. He brings it home to Wisconsin and eventually puts it in a frame and hangs it on the paneled wall of his basement rec room.
Ten U.S. soldiers pose for a picture on Christmas Day 1943, the same day they all signed a dollar bill in Codford, England. Friends from boyhood, all of the men were from Port Washington or the surrounding area.
During a rummage sale at his house, an unscrupulous shopper walks away with the war memento.
"Somebody took that dollar bill, stole it from me frame and all. That was at least 30 or 40 years ago," Ansay says.
He felt pretty sure he would never see it again.
Four or five years ago, a Pewaukee woman named Mary Miles is at the Bradley Center to see a Bucks game. She steps up to a concession stand to get a hot dog and a beer and then returns to her seat with the refreshments and her change.
She notices that one of the bills looks tired and tattered around the edges. There are 14 glue marks on the back, suggesting the bill had been in a frame or photo album.
It's a 1935 silver certificate, serial number B51237373C, one of those old dollars you almost never see in circulation anymore.
And it's signed by 10 soldiers.
Many of the names are hard to read. The clearest is Charles W. Wolf, just to the right of George Washington's face. You can make out Smiley Sceper and Sgt. Richard F. Husting. And one name looks like Sgt. Tony Dickman.
Printed neatly at the top of the bill in the same black ink is this: Codford, England, Dec. 25, 1943.
Mary, who is 41 and works in marketing for an insurance company, immediately starts to wonder about these men. She's not sure whether to picture them in a bar over there or a bunker. She can feel their loneliness so far from home on a holiday, but she can also sense the camaraderie of being together and a part of history.
The mystery gets hold of her. How did the bill get back in circulation? Did an old soldier die and have his belongings scattered and, in this case, spent? How could she find at least one of these 10 guys?
She calls the Department of Veterans Affairs and asks around at an American Legion post. She surfs military sites on the Internet. Many of the names are hard to read exactly. For all she knows they're dead by now or living many miles away. Nobody seems able to help her.
"We have no way of determining from the records in our custody the names of military personnel assigned to a particular locale or even military installation. Regret we cannot assist you in this matter," says one typical e-mail she receives.
Last week she brings the bill to me, hoping that an article would lead to some answers. The Christmas season had her thinking about these soldiers again.
"I really have no interest in this except to find its rightful owner and get it back in the hands of someone who really cares about it," she says.
Using an Internet search service called AutoTrackXP, I find listings for a Richard F. Husting and for a Charles W. Wolf. They both list Port Washington.
When I call I get Husting's grandson. He says his grandfather is deceased. He's not sure if he was in World War II.
When I dial the number listed for Charles W. Wolf, he answers yes three times when I ask him if he served in the war, if he was in England in December of 1943 and more specifically if he was in Codford, a little village southwest of London.
I tell him that a dollar bill he signed back then has been found.
"I could tell you most of the guys who signed it," he tells me. Then he starts to recite the names on the bill.
"Most of them are dead already," he says, but all of them survived the war and came home to raise families and take jobs. He says that somewhere he has a copy of a photo taken of the 10 men the same day the bill was signed.
Charles, 83, thinks that Ralph Ansay is still alive and calls him.
"This is unbelievable!" Ralph tells his old friend when he hears about the bill. He tells him about the day that he and his wife had the rummage sale at their home near 84th and Center streets in Milwaukee and made the mistake of allowing people to enter the basement to look at the items for sale.
The bill, which was absolutely not for sale, had been hanging on the wall for only weeks or at most a couple months when it was stolen. Ralph still lives in that house and even now he thinks about the bill when he looks at the spot on the wall where it hung.
Ralph, now 82, has a clear memory of pulling out the dollar on that Christmas Day 58 years ago and passing it to his buddies.
"I said, 'Why don't we all sign it and I'll keep it as a souvenir.' "
On Friday, Ralph comes to visit Charles at his home in Port Washington. They have not seen each other since the day they signed the bill.
Mary Miles, whose honesty and curiosity made this day possible, stops by, too. She hands the dollar to the two men. Other family members snap pictures and preserve the moment on videotape.
No one can believe it's been found, and everyone wonders where it was for all the lost years until it landed in Mary's hand. Ralph says he plans to reframe the bill, but no more rummage sales.
Everyone looks at the picture of the 10 young men in their dress uniforms. Every name is recited: Wolf and Ansay. Sceper and Husting and Dickman. Clarence Bartelt, Gerald Ziehr, Arnold Bach, John Kranz and William Karasch.
Then Ralph reaches into his wallet and takes out a crisp dollar bill. He signs it and then Charles signs it. They hand it to Mary.
For them, this will be a Christmas, much like the one in 1943, that will not be forgotten.
Mary Miles, who found the souvenir dollar in change at the Bradley Center, returns it Friday to two members of the group: Charles Wolf (center) and Ralph Ansay.
BUMP to all my friends !!!!!!!
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