John Dodds, a veteran and military history buff, stopped in a Goodwill store in Virginia as he was taking his daughter back to college at James Madison University. As they were about to leave, Hayley Dodds called over to her dad. She thought he would be interested in the leather bomber jacket partially obscured among a random assortment of winter coats and other jackets.
"I saw the bomber jacket and it wasn't till I got closer that I thought that it might be the real thing," recalled Dodds, who served for 31 years in the Army and Air Force. "When I got real close to it and could touch it, then I realized that it was the real thing. I didn't think I had ever even seen a real World War II jacket before."
Dodds paid $17 for the jacket, which is easily worth more than $500. But it wasn't about the money. "In that brief day, when the jacket was mine, I never intended to sell it," he said.
Instead, Dodds set out to return the jacket to its rightful owner.
It took less than 24 hours for Dodds to contact the jacket's original owner, thanks to some Internet research and a confirmation from a friend at the National Archives.
To be sure, retired Army Maj. Robert Arand, 90, was stunned to receive the phone call from Dodds. "It never dawned on me that I would see it again," said Arand, who lives in Cincinnati.
During World War II, Arand flew B-24s and B-25s on dozens of missions in the south Pacific for the 22nd Bomb Group. He last recalls wearing the jacket when he returned from the war in November 1945 in San Francisco.
The jacket is in remarkable shape today. In fact, the jacket still features patches with Arand's name, "22nd bomb group" and its nickname, the "Red Raiders, which helped Dodds' research.
The jacket still fits, though "it's a little snug," Arand says of the item he originally received in exchange for a carton of cigarettes in the Philippines.
Dodds has a long family military history, including a great-great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War. Dodds, a self-proclaimed Air Force brat, went through the Army ROTC program in college, worked as Army judge advocate and also served in the Air Force Reserves.
Once Dodds received a replica bomber jacket as a gift but "never thought I would see something like (the World War II jacket)." Still, he never wavered — he knew he must track down the original owner.
"As I was researching it, in that brief day, the jacket was mine," said Dodds, assistant general counsel for the Air Force. "And I was thinking how cool it would be to have a memento from the Pacific war. Then when I called him, I realized that I'm not going to have this jacket anymore. And that was OK. We had this long conversation, he told me all about himself."
The two men have talked several times since. And Arand has made a donation to a veterans group as a way to thank Dodds for reuniting him with his jacket that he parted with in the 1950s.
Arand says his wife was a meticulous housekeeper and wanted to know whether he would ever wear the jacket again. He reasoned that the only time he might wear it would be to a veterans parade, so he agreed to donate the jacket to a charity.
"It's been a good 60 years since I last saw it," said Arand, a member of American Legion Post 888 in Ohio.
Even though owner and jacket have been reunited, one mystery remains: Who had the jacket all those years?
"I was surprised to see it again, especially the condition it is in," Arand said. "I'd love to know who had it. Someone had to have it. I would like to know how it got from Cincinnati to a Goodwill near Washington."