A World War I soldier’s long lost uniform jacket was returned to his family Friday in Huntington, a Veteran’s Day gift from one Long Island veteran in memory of another.
John Chalker, 64, of Port Washington, discovered the jacket nearly 40 years ago in a vacant house. It wasn’t until this year that he discovered it belonged to Michael Connell, who served in 377th division infantry band in France from 1917 to 1919. With help from the Huntington Historical Society, Chalker returned it to Connell’s son, John Connell.
“I was surprised to hear that he had found it,” Connell, 80, of Huntington, said. “I was more surprised than anyone to see it was in wonderful condition.”
In 1977, Chalker was 24 and had recently completed three years of service in the Army. He and his girlfriend were exploring empty homes scheduled to be demolished in Huntington when he found a green wool military jacket and a photo of a man labeled “M.A. Connell.”
“I thought it was a shame to have the jacket trashed,” he said. “I took it home and put in a duffle bag with my old uniforms. It always stayed in my mind.”
Chalker, a member of the New York National Guard, said he didn’t know where to begin, so he just held onto it for years.
In September, Chalker revisited the jacket and decided it was finally time to send it home. He contacted the Huntington Historical Society, which located John Connell and reached out to him.
Connell said the October call from the society was a shock. His father, who returned to Huntington after the war and founded M.A. Connell Funeral Home, never really talked about his military experiences, though Connell had saved his letters and dog tags, among other memorabilia. Michael Connell died in 1955.
“I never knew the jacket even existed,” he said. “I had a lot of his other memorabilia. This one just fell through the cracks.”
Connell said the house it came from at one point belonged to his aunts, who died in the 1970s.
Chalker said he was happy he finally returned the jacket. The timing of the reunion was fitting too, he said — Saturday is Veteran’s Day and this year is the centennial of the United States entering the First World War.
“The serendipity of the whole thing is still astounding to me,” he said. “I feel a lot of psychic peace doing it.”