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Encore: WWII veteran meets the man who found and returned his long-lost bracelet

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A few months ago, we brought you the story of two men. One is a Colorado veteran whose bracelet was stolen while he was fighting in World War II. And the other is a Czech man who found and returned it more than 70 years later. Now their story has a new chapter. Here's Colorado Public Radio's Stina Sieg.

STINA SIEG, BYLINE: When Petr Svihovec went for a walk in the Czech woods with his metal detector last fall, he never could have imagined he'd find that small silver bracelet or that it would take him to the high desert of Grand Junction.

COMPUTERIZED VOICE: Your destination is on the right.

PETR SVIHOVEC: Oh, my God.

SIEG: How are you feeling?

SVIHOVEC: Oh, I'm so happy but so nervous.

SIEG: Nervous to meet Joe Esquibel, the veteran who bought that bracelet as a teenager right before shipping off to war. Joe had his signature engraved on one side and on the other scratched his girlfriend's name, Lydia. After the war, they were married for nearly 70 years until she died in 2019. Their oldest daughter greets Petr at her home.

JOLENE ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: It's so nice to meet you.

SVIHOVEC: Nice to meet you.

ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: I'm Jolene.

SVIHOVEC: Yes. I'm Peter.

ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: Nice to meet you.

SVIHOVEC: Nice to meet you.

ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: Welcome to Colorado, I guess.

SIEG: Jolene Esquibel-Archuleta hugs Petr, who also goes by Peter. He's come all the way from Prague.

ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: OK, Dad. Here he is, the man of the hour. Or I should say the men of the hour.

SIEG: Joe uses his walker to stand up and shake Petr's hand.

SVIHOVEC: Hi, Joe. Hi, Joe. Nice to meet you.

JOE ESQUIBEL: Nice to meet you.

SIEG: Both are beaming.

ESQUIBEL: I just can't believe this.

SVIHOVEC: It's my happy day, really.

SIEG: Not only did Petr unearth Joe's long-lost bracelet at a former POW camp, but he worked tirelessly to find its owner, first by deciphering Joe's signature on it, then finding Joe through his wife Lydia's obituary. Countless strangers on the internet helped, as did a historian. The U.S. Embassy sent the bracelet via diplomatic mail, and Jolene says there's someone else who helped, too.

ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: I think my mom pushed you.

SVIHOVEC: I think the same, really.

ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: Yeah. I think so, Peter. I think so.

SVIHOVEC: I think the same.

ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: You're going to find this, and you're going to give it back to my husband.

SVIHOVEC: Yeah.

ESQUIBEL-ARCHULETA: And - wow.

SIEG: Over the next week, Petr and Joe forge a new friendship, talking for hours almost every day. Petr is there for Joe's 96th birthday. When the family visits Lydia's grave, Petr tears up as they lay down a bouquet of red roses, her favorite.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So we're going to turn down this hallway.

SIEG: And when Joe attends a ceremony in his honor at the local Veterans Affairs hospital, Petr holds his hand as he walks with his cane. They sit together as Joe receives a pin with the state coat of arms on it from the Czech president, who also sent a personal letter. It's read by Alena Busovska, a Slovakian woman who lives here and helped make all of this possible.

ALENA BUSOVSKA: Not even the best screenwriter would manage to write such a narrative about a found and returned bracelet.

SIEG: Afterward, Joe pats Petr on the hand.

ESQUIBEL: He did a real good job.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEG: And I ask Petr if this whole story finally feels real to him.

SVIHOVEC: Yeah. Now it's real, and world is so small.

SIEG: And the world is so small. Petr hopes to return next year. He wants to bring his wife and teenage son to meet Joe, who says he's adopted Petr as his grandson.

For NPR News, I'm Stina Sieg in Grand Junction, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "AUTUMN RAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stina Sieg

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