Seventy-six years ago, Joe Esquibel of New Mexico was a teenage soldier in the United States Army.
Just before he was deployed to fight in World War II, Joe purchased a silver bracelet to wear as a talisman to keep him safe. On one side, he engraved his own signature. On the other, he scratched the name of the woman he loved, a girl back home named Lydia.
Joe was based at a prisoner of war camp in then-Czechoslovakia. Just before he was scheduled to leave for Germany in 1945, someone stole one of his bags. The bracelet he’d worn since leaving home, along with several other keepsakes he’d collected, were lost, seemingly forever.
When Joe retired from the army, he moved back home and married Lydia. The couple settled in Grand Junction, Colorado and raised four children together. Sadly, Lydia passed away in 2019, but it was her obituary that became the missing piece of the 76-year-old puzzle of where Joe’s trinkets had ended up.
In October 2021, Czech reporter Petr Švihovec was using a metal detector around the ruins of the old POW camp. He was surprised when his detector began beeping wildly, and even more surprised when he unearthed several small metal pieces.
“So I started to dig and I found a U.S. pin,” Petr explained via interpreter. “And after that I found a silver bracelet on which I noticed that there was a kind of signature.”
He could tell that these items must have meant something to someone, most likely one of the U.S. soldiers who’d helped liberate his country all those years ago. So, like any good amateur sleuth, Petr turned to Facebook and a local historian to track down the owner of the mementos. Eventually his research lead to the name Lydia Esquibel, which is how they discovered her obituary — and her husband’s name and location!
A woman named Alena Busovska happened to see Petr’s Facebook posts. She was born in Czechoslovakia and now lives in Grand Junction, too, and as soon as she saw the items she knew she could be the bridge between two countries to get them back to Joe. Though she was shy about her English, she mustered the courage to call Joe up to tell him what Petr had found. His grown daughter, Jolene Esquibel-Archuleta, admits she thought the call was fraudulent when she first picked up.
“It was like a dream,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it at first.”
Once Petr knew who the items belonged to, he started the arduous process of getting them back to Joe. The U.S. Embassy and the Marines were involved, and at long last the veteran received a diplomatic mail package that contained his bracelet, a service ribbon with a bronze star, an Army lapel pin, and a Swiss coin.
Joe was thrilled to have his long-lost belongings back.
“Well, I thank you many times,” he said to Petr. “If I would see it in the movie, I would say, ‘Oh, what a nice story. I wish that would happen in reality. But this really did happen. And it is real, and it’s not a movie.”
“I honestly think my mom made this happen,” said Joe’s daughter. “Our faith is very strong.”
Isn’t it incredible how cherished items have a way of coming back to us when we need them most? Thank you to Petr and everyone else who made this happen for this grateful war vet!
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