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Local

History's mysteries

WWII jacket sends Newton man on quest

The chance discovery of a World War II jacket has given Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, a historical mystery to unravel.

Breckenridge’s in-laws, Tom and Pat Kaldenberg, found the item while cleaning out a house they own. The property has been vacant for many years, and the jacket, along with the yearbooks and several medals, were buried deep inside a chest in the back of a closet.

Jonathan, Breckenridge’s son, who will be a sophomore at Newton High School this fall, urged his dad to help him figure out who owned the items.

“The house had been vacant for years and years. We’re going to try and get more of the history from the abstract,” Breckenridge said.

David White, the home’s former owner, is deceased, and Breckenridge said he believes the jacket they found may have belonged to White’s son, William. The yearbook Breckenridge found with the jacket shows William White as a graduate of flying school.

Despite what seems like a close connection to the White family, Breckenridge wasn’t able to positively ID it as belonging to William White. The only identifying mark on the garment is the letter “G,” which is embroidered onto the collar.

After meeting with Kurt Jackson, Director of the Jasper County Veterans Affairs Commission, he suggested they meet with Jasper County Museum Executive Director Joe Otto. This isn’t the first time Otto’s been tasked to help unravel a historical mystery. Getting calls from residents looking to unravel the past is a daily occurrence for Otto, Jasper County’s resident historian. As he sits in his crowded office, Otto points to rows of boxes lining the walls, each one contains historical items that have been donated to the museum.

“Every week we get phone calls, sometimes people mail stuff into us without calling,” Otto said. “I think it gives people a feeling of security knowing it’s going to be protected.”

Usually, Otto is able to point residents in the right direction, as long as they can give him enough information to get started. Using historical records like plat maps and old phone books that are kept on file at the Jasper County Historical Museum, Otto is able to field the inquiries he receives on a daily basis. He’s happy to help; encouraging amateur sleuths helps promote increased interest in history.

“That sends them further on down the road,” Otto said. “It makes me happy to see people motivated to solve historical mysteries, that means we’re doing our job.”

The Jasper County Museum is the third largest museum in Central Iowa, only the state’s historical museum and Living History Farms are larger. The museum has a collection that spans the history of Jasper County and its inhabitants.

The organization also maintains a database of its military uniform collection, which Otto referenced Monday afternoon to determine the jacket’s origin. Otto was able to identify a patch on the shoulder of the jacket as a WWII-era Army Air Corps patch. The patch matched those issued to general headquarters staff at Moore Field in Mission Texas, where the Army conducted Advanced Flying School training during the second world war.

Opened in 1941, more than 6,000 pilots learned to fly BT-13, PT-19, AT-6, P-36 and P-43 aircraft before the facility closed in October of 1945.

While Breckenridge said he’d like to try and return the items to White if he’s still alive, or to another member of his family, he said he’d donate the items to the museum if they’re unable to locate any of the WWII veteran’s relatives. The jacket’s strong origin story make it an attractive acquisition for the museum, Otto said.

“We would definitely take it, we have a very good uniform display,” Otto said. “We know where it came from, that gives it a much better provenance.”

Still, Otto’s hopeful the story won’t end there, he’d like to see the Breckenridge’s solve the mystery and identify the jacket’s rightful owner(s). There’s still the mysterious “G” sewn into the jacket, and more questions than answers. Jasper County’s in-house historian can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

“I hope he comes back and has some good information for me,” Otto said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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