Journey Of The Ring: Lost In WWII, Now Back With POW's Son

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"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.

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