Lost WWII wallet returned by Spokane neighbors, Airmen

  • Published
  • By Jim O'Connell
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Historian
Simply by volunteering to sort a bag of donations, Kelsey Nearing didn't know she would activate a chain of events that would bring neighbors and siblings together.

Recently, Nearing was sorting donations for the Rocky Cove Youth Ranch intended to be part of an annual fundraising event. In the sorting, she came across a wallet full of identification cards, membership cards and personal photos dating back to 1944. With this information, she discovered the owner was a World War II Navy veteran named Joseph Hartz. So with only a name and a strong desire to join the owner with their lost wallet, she got to work.

She approached her neighbor, Staff Sgt. Rich Johnson, a 92nd Air Refueling Squadron boom operator.  She hoped his military ties would give him a link to find the rightful owner. It was a long shot, but Johnson reached out to the 92nd ARW Historian Office for assistance.

He only wanted to do what was right by the wallet's owner and together they discovered Hartz served in the Navy from March 17, 1943, until Feb. 5, 1946, and that he lived in Spokane prior to his death in 1987. Furthermore, they found that Hartz's son, Nick Merrill, and his daughter, Patti Speranzi, still lived in Spokane.

Johnson contacted Merrill and made arrangements to drive the wallet personally over to his home to guarantee the precious memories contained in the wallet were returned to the family. When Kelsey heard the wallet was returned, she said, "I want to say I am beyond appreciative for your help with finding the wallet's home! His older daughter [Patti] was in tears when she heard what was found and returned."

As it turns out, when Joseph Hartz's wife, Florence, passed away in April, the family donated many of her household items to the Rocky Cove Youth Ranch. One of those items mistakenly included the wallet. 

If it had not been for the determination of two neighbors to honor the memory of the World War II veteran, the wallet and the memorabilia contained within might have been lost by the family forever. Now, in the right hands, it will continue bringing cherished memories for generations to come.