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WWII footlocker lost for decades; Warren Airman finds rightful owners

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Eydie Sakura
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
The leather handles on either side of the trunk are cracked and dry, but sturdy and completely intact. The metal lock looks like it's been broken into, but still closes with ease even after decades of extreme weather have rusted the hinges. An Army service number is painted across the top of the trunk, signifying ownership of this World War II-era footlocker.

The footlocker was found September 2012 here in Cheyenne, Wyo. No one knows how it got here; how long it had been here; and why it was in Cheyenne. This hidden treasure found its way into the hands of the 90th Missile Wing base honor guard NCOIC, who has a passion for military history and finds pride in honoring all veterans, both past and present.

"A friend of mine found [the footlocker] in a storage shed of a woman's house," said Tech. Sgt. Gary Wayland, 90th Force Support Squadron. "He said, 'I got this chest and it has military stuff in it,' so he brought it to me."

Wayland said he knew it was an old footlocker, and when he opened it, he saw an old envelope postmarked Nov. 12, 1943.

"I found it interesting how old it was," Wayland said. "Inside the envelope was the documentation of a Purple Heart presented on Nov. 5, 1943. Upon reading the citation and realizing this person was killed-in-action, and knowing it was associated with [WWII], I asked my friend if I could take it from him to do some research, and eventually return it to the family. That's the first thought that came to my mind; getting it back to the family members who lost their loved one."

Wayland started doing research on the Internet, and found the trunk and Purple Heart citation belonged to 1st Lt. Hiram Appleget of the 95th Bomber Squadron. He was killed-in-action March 1, 1943, and is buried in the North Africa American Cemetery in Tunisia.

"He was in the Army Air Corps," Wayland said. "Now we're talking Air Force history ... a person who helped get the Air Force started. I felt a little bit of connectivity with him."

Appleget, a Minnesota native, enlisted in the Army November 1941 as an aviation cadet.

Wayland found Appleget's great nephew, Steven, in Minnesota and began contact with him over-the-phone.

"I called him up and told him what I had," Wayland said. "He was ecstatic to hear from me. He thought this chest was lost."

Steven Appleget sent Wayland old letters that were written by his great uncle to family during his time in service. There was even a letter from a friend who served with him, describing in detail the day Hiram was shot down and how he lost his life.

"[Hiram] was a pilot of a B-26 Marauder -- the 'Barrelhouse Bessie'," Steven said. "When I started seriously working on family history, I made up a slogan for our family: 'We showed up.' [Hiram] showed up. He wasn't looking for a big military career or even to 'whup' the [enemy]. He had a job to do and he did it -- and complained about the food and the conditions along the way. He had a ship to fly and guys to watch out for. And that's what he did. He showed up."

Wayland has been a member of the honor guard since 2009 and sees getting the footlocker back to the Appleget family as the "right thing to do."

"I think being in honor guard has impacted me on this," he said. "It's because it's what we do. We honor all veterans. It makes me wonder how far others would go to honor a veteran... how about one killed-in-action? How about someone they never knew? I think this whole experience falls [into focus] with the honor guard ... we're giving honors, whether it's directly or indirectly."

*Editor's Note: Wayland plans to ship the footlocker to Minnesota within the next several months. He also got the Purple Heart citation professionally framed and preserved for the Appleget family.