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January 16, 2007 > Man's wallet returned

Man's wallet returned

MEXICO, Mo. (AP), Jan 08 _ Ray Heilwagen has his wallet back _ 62 years after he lost it in France during World War II.

Late last year, Heilwagen received a call from Stephen Breitenstein of Palatine, Ill.

``He said, 'Did you lose a billfold?' and I remembered I did,'' Heilwagen told the Hannibal Courier-Post. ``Then he said, 'I found it and will send it to you.'

``I could hardly believe it.''

Breitenstein's father, who also served in France during World War II, recently died. Digging through his father's possessions _ ironically on Veteran's Day _ Stephen Breitenstein found the old wallet. He figured his dad found it during the war and brought it home, hoping to find the owner. Not knowing how to do so, he left it in a drawer for more than six decades.

Using the Internet, Breitenstein tracked down Heilwagen. After their phone conversation, he mailed the wallet to him.

``He sent it to me, and I received it in very good order,'' Heilwagen said. ``It had everything in it _ (French) francs and pictures and my original Social Security card and some receipts.''

The wallet also included an article from the Courier-Post (Heilwagen grew up in Hannibal) that his parents had mailed to him during the war.

Heilwagen served with the Army's 79th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, which was in combat in France from their arrival in July 1944 until he was injured and hospitalized that November with a leg injury. He received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

``We were in combat continuously, every day almost,'' he recalled. ``We were in a battle and received small arms fire, then a German mortar came in and exploded. It blew me into the river, and I had about five pieces of shrapnel in my right leg.''

As medics helped him in the field, Heilwagen recalled pulling out his billfold to look at pictures. The next day, he was taken to a French hospital, where the shrapnel was removed.

``They were getting ready to ship me out to another hospital, and I looked for my billfold, and it was gone,'' said Heilwagen, who was later discharged and returned to Missouri. He retired after a 39-year career with Southwestern Bell Telephone.

As for Breitenstein, ``I was impressed that a stranger would go to such trouble to locate me and return my wallet,'' Heilwagen said.

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