"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."
That's David C. Cox Jr. of North Carolina talking Wednesday about the rather amazing saga of the ring his father had to trade for food in a German prisoner of war camp during World War II — a ring that has now made it back to the Cox family after seven decades.
The ring's story, told earlier this week by The Associated Press, is quite a tale. There's a copy of the AP story posted here and it's worth taking the time to read. The short version is that:
-- David C. Cox (Sr.) graduated from flight school and got married on July 26, 1942. That day, his parents gave him a a gold signet ring, "emblazoned with a raised propeller and wings." Inside, these words were engraved: "Mother & Father to David C. Cox Greensboro, NC." Also; his birthdate — "10-4-18" — and the year of his graduation — "42." Cox went on to co-pilot bombing missions over Europe.
-- "On July 28, 1943, Cox's plane was shot down over Kassel, Germany. He parachuted into a rose garden and was taken prisoner."
-- In January 1945, at a prisoner of war camp near Moosburg, Germany, where conditions were horrible and food was scarce, Cox traded the ring to an Italian POW for two candy bars. He never saw that ring again. The ring and how he had to part with it was among the few stories of the war that he shared with his family. Cox died in 1994.
-- Fast forward to about three weeks ago. Americans Mark and Mindy Turner, living in the Bavarian village of Hohenberg, are invited to dinner by their Hungarian neighbors, Martin and Regina Kiss. Martin Kiss shows the Turners a ring that his grandmother said she got from a Russian soldier shortly after World War II ended in exchange for room and board.
You guessed it. The ring is the one Cox traded for those chocolate bars. Martin Kiss had always wondered about who the original owner was. Turner, seeing the inscription, did some searching on the Internet that led him to a thesis paper that David Cox Jr.'s son-in-law, Norwood McDowell, had written about the senior Cox and the story of the ring.
Some email exchanges later, the ring was on its way to the Cox family. The Kiss family "would not take one cent" for it, David Cox Jr. tells NPR's Melissa Block. "I will always be grateful to them for their generosity."
"I thought about him the moment I opened the box," Cox, who is 67, says of his father and the return of that ring, "and I thought how wonderful it would be if he were the one doing it rather than me. I'm sorry he can't be here for it ... He would have been overwhelmed like we are. He would have loved it."
Cox also wonders about where that ring was over the years. "What did he do with it?," he asks about the Italian POW. "How long did he keep it? ... For it to go through all of those twists and turns and never leave within two hours of where the prison camp was ... is a phenomenal story to me."
Much more from Melissa's conversation with Cox is due on All Things Considered later today. We'll add the as-broadcast version of their conversation to the top of this post. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts the show.
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.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.