A week into 2021, I received a short message from Alan Carlson, the OLLI Connects Editor. Somebody had written a comment on my 2018 OLLI Connects story about Santa Claus. Who would comment on it two years later? Alan sent the comment for me to read before posting it.
The comment read: “Dear Diane, I try to contact you on your Facebook message about your dad. Hope you can see and read it! Kind regards, Sam.”
I checked Messenger and, sure enough, there was a message from Sam with two blurred images. In this age of mistrust and online scamming, I did not open the images and chose not to reply through Messenger.
Instead, I emailed Sam with the following message:
“Dear Sam, I understand that you want to get in touch with me regarding my dad. I am curious about your connection to him. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you, Diane Russell”
Sam’s response floored me. Here’s a part of Sam’s email:
“I’m Sam…from the Netherlands and I collect items from WW2. A month ago I bought a whole lot of pictures with dog tags and some other personal items on eBay…I did some quick research and found out that this is from your father…”
- How did Sam figure out that I was related to Arthur A. Henrikson?
- How could a young Dutch man have bought WW2 photos and my dad’s dog tags on eBay? I thought that our family had all of my parents’ memorabilia.
Sam attached several photos of items he had bought: photos of my dad with my mom, his brother and his fellow soldiers; his Tobacco Ration Card (never used because he was not a smoker); and his dog tags! Sam also said that he had photos of France and Germany and wondered where my dad was stationed.
Sam ended the email, “…I hope I didn’t shock you by sending this message. But when I got something personal I’m always looking for relatives…Thank you already, Sam.”
To answer my first question, I figured out easily how Sam linked me to my dad. My dad’s dog tags had his full name, so he researched my dad and found his obituary, which included my name. I deliberately included my maiden name on Facebook, so childhood friends could find me. Sam found me there and also found me as an OLLI Connects contributor.
The second question was harder to answer: How did someone gain possession of my dad’s photos and dog tags to sell them on eBay?
I immediately contacted my sisters and nieces to do some fact-finding. I also contacted a cousin on each side of the family to let them know that a Dutch man had some WW2 photos of their fathers! After OCS, my dad served as a hospital administrator and GI health cartoonist at air force bases in Walla Walla, Washington and Avon Park and Tampa, Florida.
Therefore, the only person who could have taken photos in France and Germany was my mom’s brother. Photos from North Africa could only be from my dad’s brother.
My relatives all were just as shocked and dumbfounded as I was. Sam’s email revealed that he was a nice young man innocently collecting WW2 items as a hobby with no malevolent intentions. However, we were perplexed by who wanted to make money on these items.
My sisters, nieces and I brainstormed on WhatsApp to figure out how these items could have left the family home. We agreed that this is what happened:
After my dad became ill in November 2012, we knew he would not return home. My role as trustee allowed me to list his home for sale and we accepted an offer two days after he passed away. Luckily, the buyer did not need to move into the house until late January 2013. However, our family had owned the house for 57 years, so it was filled to the gills with memorabilia from several generations. (See Diane’s earlier story.)
I flew back to Florida right after my dad died due to a four-letter word: WORK! My sisters took charge of emptying the house. A local auction house sent a representative to purchase furniture and other items to be sold at an auction. My sisters think they hastily stacked the WW2 photos and dog tags on the dining room table. The representative thought they were for sale and bought them. (The dining room table also was sold!) We did not know they were missing for eight years.
To confirm our theory, Sam said that the eBay seller noted that he bought my dad’s WW2 items at an estate sale.
With trust no longer an issue, I emailed photos of some of my dad’s published GI health cartoons and other identification cards to Sam. In turn, Sam photographed each photo as well as the back of each photo with writing on it. Sure enough, my uncle’s clear handwriting appeared on the photos taken in France and Germany. I forwarded them to my cousin, who continued to be astounded.
A few days later, Sam emailed a photo of his respectful display of my dad’s photos and dog tags.
The surprises continued. A week after I first heard from Sam, he reported that the eBay seller had more items from our family to sell! Sam sent me two photos. One photo was the program from my dad’s OCS graduation exercises. The other photo showed cash receipts for my dad’s purchases on base…and a receipt book of military-related expenses in my grandmother’s handwriting!
At my request, Sam gave me the seller’s name, but he later decided to buy the remaining items to keep them together.
It is quite flattering to know that someone outside of our family was intrigued by my dad’s WW2 service. Sam may have thought initially that my dad was an exciting aviator who fought in battles in France and Germany. Instead, he discovered that my dad was a First Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps who was stationed at Florida air force bases and drew important GI health cartoons.
My dad would be tickled that Sam treasures his WW2 dog tags…and that his cartoons are still published!
Diane Henrikson Russell joined OLLI in 2014. She has taken over 70 OLLI courses on literature, writing, history, health and wellness, art, music, language, sociology, technology, theater and genealogy. Diane volunteers as a proofreader for the OLLI class catalog and for OLLI Connects, and is a regular OLLI Connects contributor.