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Fond memories return with lost wallet after nearly 70 years

By Matt Cherry, CNN Radio
American Legion official Joe Craig returns a lost wallet missing for nearly 70 years to Bob Bell Sr.
American Legion official Joe Craig returns a lost wallet missing for nearly 70 years to Bob Bell Sr.
  • Wallet lost in 1941 returned to 88-year-old World War II veteran
  • Robert Judson Bell lost the wallet while in training for the Navy
  • Wallet still had photos of Bell's first wife, who died in 1948

CNN -- Sometimes, good things are worth waiting for. Even almost 70 years.

Just ask Robert Judson Bell. The 88-year-old World War II Navy veteran was reunited this week with the wallet he lost way back in 1941 while undergoing naval training in Chicago. It may not have contained any money, but its value to Bell and his family can't be understated. Inside were two photographs of his first wife, who had died in a 1948 car crash.

"I'm just overwhelmed at everything that's happened," said Bell in an interview with CNN Radio. Bell lost the wallet while getting training for hydraulics at what is now the Chicago Vocational Career Academy. How he lost it is anyone's guess -- including his own.

"It must have dropped on the floor or something. There was no robbery. It was just lost, period," said Bell.

And so it remained lost, for nearly 45 years. Enter electrician Bob Jordan. He was doing some work in the Academy basement around 1985 when he stumbled upon the wallet.

"I reached on top of this big old junction box and there was his wallet," Jordan said. "It was all falling apart, the rubber was all dry-rotted."

Jordan says he made an initial attempt to get the wallet back to its owner but he wasn't able to make any progress. So, it sat in a drawer of his for years. Recently, Jordan decided to restart his search.

"Finally I said I've got to get this back to this fellow, he's probably getting old," Jordan said. "I had no use for it. There were some pictures in there. I said I bet if the fellow's still alive, he'll probably get a big kick about getting his wallet back."

Jordan contacted a friend, who in turn contacted Joe Craig, a representative of the American Legion Post 250 in Hinsdale, Illinois. Craig says he got the assistance of an aide to Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Illinois, and that aide asked the Social Security Administration to try and find Bell. The agency succeeded, and Bell was presented with the wallet this week in a ceremony at the Utah assisted-living community where he lives.

Most cherished among the contents were the two photographs of Bell's first wife Dorothy. He says he's looked at the photos over and over since getting them back, and they bring back fond memories.

"She was a beautiful girl. Not only beautiful. She was friendly, she was vibrant and a wonderful person," Bell said.

The pictures were just as valuable to Bell's son, Robert L. Bell. He was only 18 months old when his mother was killed.

"I'd only ever seen one picture of her in my whole life," said the younger Bell. "My father remarried a few years after her death and it was never really discussed after that."

The wallet's other contents included Bell's Social Security card, a Masonic Lodge card and even a little comic strip. Bell says he recalls he had money in the wallet, but that was long gone.

"Seven or eight dollars, not much," Bell said. "I had just bought some U.S. government bonds, because if you bought bonds you got the day off."