Last week, David Cox Jr. opened a package that had been sent to Raleigh, NC, from Germany. In it was a ring—and with it an amazing story. The gold aviator's ring had belonged to the 67-year-old's father, David Cox, who had been given it by his parents in celebration of his Army Air Corps commission in 1942. Within the year Cox was deployed to Europe, and the AP reports that his plane was shot down over Kassel, Germany, on July 28, 1943. He parachuted into a rose garden, was captured, and ended up in the POW camp immortalized in The Great Escape before marching, in January 1945, to Stalag VII-A. There, faced with bug-infested soup and bread and little hope, Cox traded it to an Italian POW for a few chocolate bars.
The camp was liberated on April 28 of that year, and Cox returned to North Carolina, where he spoke little about the war—but spoke wistfully about the ring, which he treasured enough that he had an exact replica made. It finally made its way home thanks to the arrival of an American couple in the Bavarian village of Hohenberg. Last month they met 64-year-old Martin Kiss, whose family was given the ring by a Russian solider after the war, ostensibly in exchange for room and board. Kiss knew from the inscription ("Mother & Father to David C. Cox Greensboro, NC," along with Cox's birthdate and the current year) that it belonged to an American, and with the help of the Americans and the Internet, was able to track down Cox via a 2005 master's thesis from North Carolina State University written by Cox's granddaughter's husband—which mentioned the ring. Soon after that, it was back on US soil. (Read more World War II stories.)