When a loved one passes away, even their smallest mementos can bring us an incredible sense of comfort. These little pieces of them carry significant memories that can clue us into their life and experiences.
Seventy-five years after Private John “Jack” Hemstreet’s death, his family had almost given up hope of finding any of his personal belongings.
Hemstreet was raised in Scotia, New York, but never returned after joining the Army in 1941. He was killed in Germany just four months after surviving D-Day, but no one knew the exact cause of his death.
For 15 years, Brendan Gibbons and his grandfather, Hemstreet’s cousin, have been searching for clues.
“My grandfather was Jack’s cousin. Grandpa was born in 1925, so they were separated by about five years. He described the two of them as the ‘black sheep’ of our family,” Gibbons told Liftable, a section of The Western Journal.
Gibbons said that his grandfather and Hemstreet were “like brothers” and spent plenty of time together before World War II separated them.
“When Pearl Harbor happened, Jack enlisted but Grandpa couldn’t enlist until 1943,” Gibbons said. “At that point, grandpa became a pilot in World War II and he and Jack wrote letters back and forth until Jack was killed. Grandpa kept those letters, I still have them.”
Hemstreet’s family hunted for answers about his death. Initially, he was listed MIA, but once he had been declared dead, no one could pinpoint the cause of his death.
“His mother, from what I’m told, never believed he was killed. She left the backdoor of her house open which is down in Scotia for her entire life, hoping that he would come in,” Gibbons told WNYT.
“We heard many rumors over the years … sniper, hitting a land mine in a Jeep,” Gibbons said. “A lot of different stories.”
Gibbons and his grandfather heard nothing more about Hemstreet until Memorial Day 2019, when a stranger presented them with the gift of a lifetime.
Robert Miller, an Army veteran himself, had recently purchased allied military currency from eBay. During World War II, soldiers used this currency while they were fighting overseas.
Upon finding the currency in a purse at a thrift store, the seller noticed that it was signed by a “John Hemstreet” beside a recognizable date: June 6, 1944 — otherwise known as D-Day.
Once he received the currency, Miller became determined to track down its original owner. Once he realized that Hemstreet had resided just a few miles down the road from him, he was shocked.
“I had no idea when I purchased this that the veteran Jack Hemstreet was from Scotia, New York. I realized that, I was like wow, this is, this is fate,” Miller told WNYT.
Miller presented Gibbons with the framed currency at a Memorial Day Ceremony in Schenectady County, New York. Gibbons was immediately overcome with gratitude.
During the ceremony, Miller explain that he’d gotten into contact with Hemstreet’s family through his neice, Mary Hemstreet, and ultimately connected with Gibbons.
“When I received that currency … I had no words. What could I say?” Gibbons said.
“It’s been the first item that I’ve ever held that connected to him like that. It may seem small, but it’s amazing and a massive blessing to me.”
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