WWII vet gets back wallet lost in Austria in 1945

This June, Dr. Josef Ruckhofer was renovating the farmhouse near Salzburg his late grandfather had left him when he discovered an old leather wallet hidden underneath some floorboards. The wallet had no money in it but there were family pictures, some stamps, money order receipts and most fortunately, a military ID card which identified the wallet’s owner as Eligio Ramos of Texas. Ruckhofer searched through Texas telephone directories online but wasn’t able to find an Eligio Ramos. When he expanded the search to all of the United States, he found an Eligio Ramos born on the proper date (August 27th, 1923) at an address in Fresno, California.

On the morning of June 18th, Eligio Ramos, now 91 years of age and living in a Fresno VA hospital, was having breakfast with his 72-year-old daughter Sylvia Gonzalez when she opened a letter from Salzburg, Austria. It was from Dr. Ruckhofer asking if the Eligio Ramos at this address could be the one who left his wallet behind after spending a night in an Austrian farmhouse in 1945. He including some copies of the military ID card and family photos.

“I was having breakfast at home with my dad like our usual routine three days out of the week, and I was reading through the mail when I stumbled upon the letter,” Gonzalez, 72, said. “I said, ‘Dad! Look! Somebody found your wallet you lost in 1945 in Austria.”

It turns out Eligio Ramos and his platoon of the 250th field artillery had been in the Salzburg area in 1945 while going town to town liberating prisoners in the slave labor subcamps of the vast Mauthausen-Gusen complex. Ruckhofer’s grandfather offered Ramos and his comrades a place to stay for the night. Ramos secreted his wallet under the floorboards but forget to retrieve it before the soldiers left the next morning. Over the decades he forgot about the wallet he’d lost in Austria, until it all came back to him the morning he received Dr. Ruckhofer’s letter. Eligio Ramos is now the only surviving member of his battalion.

Ramos’ son Rosando emailed Ruckhofer and confirmed he’d found the long-lost wallet’s owner. They made arrangements for the precious memento to be sent back to Eligio who was able to hold it in his hands for the first time in 70 years.

The wallet contains a “treasure-load” of family photos, including baby photos of relatives now in their 70s who showed up at a special reunion celebrating the lost-and-found at Fresno VA Hospital, [VA public affairs specialist Carmichael] Yepez said. […]

“Everything in the wallet is of sentimental value,” vet’s son said at the reunion.”He had a ton of pictures in his wallet in case he didn’t make it back. He wanted to have his family with him in his heart.”

The family plans to have the wallet and its contents framed so they can display this personal and historic treasure with pride on their walls.

5 thoughts on “WWII vet gets back wallet lost in Austria in 1945

  1. It is always an immense pleasure to be reminded that there are people in the world who still retain the virtues of absolute honesty and integrity, come what may in life.

    How admirable that Dr. Josef Ruckhofer, the finder of this precious relic, felt it incumbent on him to make the effort to track down the owner of the 70 year old wallet he discovered beneath some old floor boards in an ancient barn his Grandfather had left him.

    Many people might have assumed there was no point reasoning that the wallet’s owner was likely long deceased after so many years- but not Dr. Josef Ruckhofer.

    I often reflect on all the US and other Servicemen, of which there are countless tens of thousands, who perished during that terrible war and whose remains were never found, either destroyed in all the mammoth bombings and/or buried in unmarked graves.

    No remains to bury but only the Memory that on a certain day someone’s Loved one shipped off to war, to put their life at risk for their country and never returned. Just as if they had disappeared into a Black Hole.

    No doubt when this old soldier received his long lost wallet in the mail, containing so many precious Family photos, he must have felt emotionally shaken to the core of his being, as an avalanche of tears welled up in his eyes, remembering all those who did not make it back alive. But just in a flag draped box or perhaps- not at all.

    And now, all these decades later, as Eligio Ramos, the 91 years of age Veteran, living in a Fresno VA hospital has survived long enough to see his Family photos returned to him, at long last, all the wars still continue, everywhere on Earth, without end, as if the entire world has not learned a thing from so much pain and suffering and loss.

    No one ever wrote about the futility and tragedy of War with quite the power and shattering emotional impact as the great English poet, Wilfred Owen.

    Ironically, Wilfred Owen himself, perished in war along with Rupert Brooke and an entire generation of young phenomenally gifted British poets during WW I.

    Their immortal poems however, yet remain to remind those of us, if we will only stop and listen, of just how terrible is the loss of even a single precious human life.

    May God Bless 91 year old Eligio Ramos and grant him many more years of life.

    It is, perhaps, the least Fate can offer up to a now very old man who was fully prepared to risk his own life for others.

  2. I know that VA Hospital in Fresno. It was my first job out of med school. Many fond memories serving the veterans there. Great story. Thanks for sharing.

  3. What a wonderful story! I am so glad that Mr. Ramos is still alive to receive this wallet and precious photos, and that his mind is healthy and he can understand its significance! They are preserving it; it will be a true family treasure for many generations!

  4. It’s heartwarming that a German returned the wallet but given what was taken and not returned to the Jews, one can’t be completely sure that the home that was left to Ruckhover was rightfully his. What happened to all those homes taken from the Jews? Someone was the beneficiary of those thefts and then their children and granchildren after them.

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