MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
A story now about something treasured and lost, then returned. It goes back to World War II and a POW camp in Germany. Second Lieutenant David Cox, a U.S. bomber pilot, had been held there for a year and a half, surviving barely on rations of bug-infested soup and bread. An Italian POW in the camp had managed to get two chocolate bars. Cox had a gold aviator's ring, a gift from his parents. He was hungry. So he made a trade - the ring for the chocolate bars.
Cox was eventually freed from the camp. He returned home to North Carolina and started a business and a family. He died in 1994. Well, improbably, his lost ring has now surfaced and is in the hands of Cox's son, David Cox Jr., who joins me now from Raleigh. Mr. Cox, welcome to the program.
DAVID COX JR.: Thank you.
BLOCK: And I wonder if you could describe that ring for us. What does it look like?
JR.: Well, it is in considerably better shape than the replica ring that he had made when he returned from the war. It's a signet ring with a propeller and a set of wings that cross in the middle.
BLOCK: And you're saying that after your father came home, he had a copy made. He was so attached to the idea of the ring that he had another one made to replace the original.
JR.: Well, the original ring was given to him by his parents upon his successful completion of Army Air Corps training and getting his commission as a second lieutenant back in 1942. When he traded the ring for chocolate, when he got home, he apparently felt a bit of remorse than sadness that he had had to do what he had had to do. So his parents made him a replica ring, and that's the ring that he wore until five or six years before his death.
BLOCK: Hmm. Well, how, Mr. Cox, did you find out that the original ring of your father's had been found?
JR.: Well, it's a phenomenal story, and it really involves more than myself. It involves my son-in-law, Norwood McDowell. He had written his master's thesis to get his master's in history and based his thesis in large part on my dad's diary.
BLOCK: Was this a wartime diary?
JR.: The ring anecdote was not in the diary because he had been shot down, but Norwood put it in the thesis as an anecdote. So two weeks ago, he was contacted by an American couple in Germany who had a neighbor, Mr. Kiss, who was showing around his studio and casually mentioned to Mark Turner that he had this ring that he had obtained from his grandmother 60-some years ago who had obtained it from a Russian soldier for ostensibly for room and board.
When Turner saw the ring and was able to read the inscription, he got excited about helping Mr. Kiss find the owner. So he went back home and within 20 minutes had discovered my son-in-law's thesis online...
JR.: ...and they immediately emailed Norwood and sent him a jpeg of the inside inscription of the ring, and Norwood immediately sent that email to me.
BLOCK: And what did that inscription say?
JR.: Well, the ring is inscribed with my dad's name from mother and father with his birth date and the year 1942 when they gave it to him and Greensboro, North Carolina. And I will have to tell you that we offered to pay for the ring. I offered to pay for the postage home. They would not take one cent.
BLOCK: Really? They just (unintelligible)
JR.: They were so gracious, just wanted to do this out of the goodness of their heart to get the ring back to the proper family. And I will always be grateful to them for their generosity.
BLOCK: What's it like for you now, Mr. Cox, to have that ring of your father's that was lost so long ago?
JR.: Well, I can't touch it or pick it up without thinking about him, and I can't pick it up without thinking about this journey of the ring.
BLOCK: Do you think about what your father would be thinking to have that ring back?
JR.: I thought about him the moment I opened the box, and I thought how wonderful it would be if he were the one doing it. And I'm sorry he can't be here for it. He would have been overwhelmed like we are.
BLOCK: Well, Mr. Cox, it's a lovely story, and thanks so much for talking to us about it.
JR.: You're very welcome. I appreciate your interest.
BLOCK: That's David Cox Jr., the owner of his father's aviator ring recovered after nearly 70 years in Germany.
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