AKRON, Iowa | Joan Coleman snapped up a $1 box of miscellaneous items at auction years ago, one of the many sales she attended with her husband, Marvin Coleman, before his death on July 4, 1993.
That was their entertainment. She enjoys the memories, still.
Sifting through the box this winter, Coleman found a New Testament issued to a soldier in World War II. She set out to return the Bible to its rightful owner.
"I found a name on it but couldn't locate the individual whose Bible this was," Coleman said. "So I went to the commission of veterans affairs.
And there she met Lisa Robinson, clerk for the Woodbury County Commission of Veterans Affairs. Robinson is currently working to locate photos of area soldiers killed in Vietnam. She seeks pictures for a new Education Center to be built near the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., and the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veteran's Museum in Waterloo.
Robinson, who has some experience finding families of older veterans, started with "Robert G. Howard, Lincoln, Neb.," the name written inside the little Bible issued by the White House.
With a common name like Robert Howard, it was a second name scribbled on an inside page that provided more of a lead: "Next of kin," it read, "Mother, Zelma Howard."
"How many Zelma Howards could there be in Nebraska?" Robinson asked. "I tracked it down that way."
The search led to a residence in Hastings, Neb. When Robinson asked to get Robert Howard on the phone, she was told of his death in 1986. His widow, however, was on the line.
"I was surprised to hear about his Bible," said Darlene Howard, 86. "Robert had a little New Testament that I knew about. I don't know where it is now."
Robinson is mailing it back, where it belongs.
Near his name and his mother's name, there was another note. It read, "Beth Cobel from her nephew, R.G. Howard."
"The only connection we can recall around Sioux City was that Dad's other aunt, Lois, and her husband, Frank Reiter, lived in Sioux City," said Jeff Howard, one of three sons raised in Hastings by Robert and Darlene Howard.
It may be that Howard presented one aunt the Bible upon his return home after World War II, and she then gave it to her sister at some point.
It remains a bit of a mystery to Darlene Howard, who wed Robert G. Howard in 1954, the same year they relocated to Hastings, where he began a 32-year dental practice that ended with his death. Their son, Jeff Howard, represents a third-generation dentist. Like his father, he practices in Hastings.
"There really isn't much to tell," Darlene Howard said of her late husband's military tour. "He served in the Army. He was a very good dentist and the first man from Hastings to go to Denver, Colo., for a (quadruple) heart bypass. He lived for 10 years after that."
Combing through old news clippings from Nebraska, Jeff Howard said his father enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 17 in 1944. Following training at camps in Minnesota and North Dakota, he served much of his tour as a clerk on a base in Arkansas. Though he earned a medal as a sharpshooter, he did not fight overseas.
As Darlene Howard spoke, snow fell in Hastings, giving her a reason to nestle and read in the comfort of her home. When the mail arrives next week, she'll have her late husband's World War II New Testament to peruse.
Robinson said the case marks the first time in years her office has connected the family of a late World War II veteran to his long-lost Bible.
The story not only gave Coleman a measure of satisfaction, it also allowed her to reflect on an auction pastime she so thoroughly enjoyed with her husband.
"I'm glad the family is getting their Bible," she said. "It's something they should keep."