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Frank Gray

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Joanne Schultz-Ithier holds a photo of her father, Francis Schultz, who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and was shot down over France.

D-Day tokens find their way home

Last spring, we ran a column about a woman named Joanne Schultz-Ithier and the fact that she had been invited to the dedication of a monument in the little village of Tamerville, France, honoring her father and other Americans who had been shot down near the village during World War II.

Schultz-Ithier was a little emotional about it, mostly because she was stunned that after 70 years, the people of the little village were still so grateful.

The topic came up in a conversation with a couple who had stopped by the Poppy Cottage on East State Boulevard, where Schultz-Ithier was helping a friend who owns the shop. But, she lamented, her daughter was getting married and she had other unexpected expenses, so the trip probably wasn’t in the cards.

So the man she was speaking to reached into his pocket, pulled out $50, told her he’d be her first sponsor, told her to spread her story, and above all, believe she would make the trip.

The column that resulted sort of embarrassed Schultz-Itheir. She’s not poor. She makes decent money. But she did want to make the trip.

After the column ran, it wasn’t long before other sponsors started popping up. Money came in. A group of retired pilots from Baer Field kicked in. An American Airlines pilot from the area wangled her a discount on her tickets.

By late May, Schultz-Ithier was on her way to France, being treated like a celebrity and even being bumped to first class just before the plane took off.

It’s been a month since Schultz-Ithier returned from what she called the trip of a lifetime with plenty of stories, but stories from the trip keep adding up, long after she’s been home.

Oh, Schultz-Ithier saw the monument. She saw the name of her father, Francis Schultz, on it. She saw pieces of the plane he was on, including the back wheel of the plane, which a local farmer had used to make a wheelbarrow, and part of what was a bathroom door on the plane, which a local had used to make a top for his toolbox.

She saw the farm where her father stayed briefly after the crash and the homes of people who helped him before he was captured.

She saw Utah and Omaha beaches and Pointe du Hoc, and marveled that the expansive beaches, what she called prime beachfront property that people would be fighting over in America, was still empty, pristine, standing as a memorial to D-Day.

On the flight home she was introduced, along with a 90-year-old World War II Navy veteran, as a VIP, and she learned that among those on the plane was the son of a soldier killed in the war. He carried with him the remains of his father, whose body had just been found. He had been mistakenly buried as an unidentified German soldier. On landing, a casket holding those remains was met by a military escort, draped in a flag and removed before anyone else got off the plane.

But Schultz-Ithier carried something with her that even she didn’t expect to have.

While in France, she was approached by an old man. He was a kid during D-Day, and on the beach he had found a Catholic prayer book. It had a name in it and an address in America. He’d hung on to the prayer book for 70 years.

The man gave Schultz-Ithier the book and told her it belonged in America with the man who lost it.

After returning, Schultz-Ithier went to work, calling everyone in a little Minnesota town who had the same last name as the one in the book, but she struck out.

Then, online, Schultz-Ithier found an obituary with the same name as the one in the prayer book. The man had died only five months before. So she contacted the funeral home, who put her in touch with the man’s daughter.

Indeed, the woman’s father was at D-Day, a medic, and it was his prayer book.

It had finally made it home.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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