*********************************** NO PEACE WITHOUT JUSTICE ! Luke 18 ***********************************
Among the many things Dawn McSweeney stole on October 7, 1996, was my coin and bill collection. My father collected foreign coins and bills that came into the cash at our family business, Metropolitan News. He would put the correct amount back into the cash and keep the odd items for me. He also collected autographs for me before I was old enough to know about such things.
For nearly 35 years, the aged dollar bill sat in a box inside Lewis Turchi's bedroom closet, kept so securely hidden for safekeeping that it was nearly forgotten.
But after talk over a recent breakfast with friends turned to a discussion about war, Turchi went home to Palos Verdes Estates and pulled out the short snorter - an artifact of a World War II tradition in which servicemen signed and dated pieces of paper currency.
Scrawled upon the bank note was a handful of names penned in faded loose cursive, the name of a city in Luxembourg, and the date Feb. 7, 1945.
And on a margin of the bill's backside, written in neat, bold print, still vivid 65 years later, was a name: Cpl. Roscoe N. Pyles.
A longtime dentist on the Peninsula, Turchi was so enthralled that he began researching the name.
And what he would discover was a priceless link between a father and son that would bring a new perspective to the horrors of a war that left a deep, lasting impression on a family just a few miles away - all at the bargain price of $1.
Nearly every night of his childhood, Ron Pyles was awakened by the sound of his father screaming in his sleep.
U.S. Army Cpl. Roscoe Pyles survived the Battle of the Bulge, the long and bloody German offensive that concluded 65 years ago last month, but shortly afterward suffered injuries in Luxembourg for which he earned a Purple Heart.
Drafted as a 17-year-old Los Angeles HighSchool student during World War II, he was processed April 22, 1944, at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro. Soon, he headed to Europe as a member of Gen. George S. Patton's Third U.S. Army, his son said.
At the war's end, Roscoe Pyles returned home to California as a veteran at just 19. He married, settled in Torrance, and opened a shop that sold decorative concrete products in an unincorporated county area west of Carson.
But life post-war was not always easy. After a few glasses of Jim Beam loosened his tongue, Roscoe Pyles would tell his son war stories, and few were pleasant.
"He talked about getting frostbite in Belgium, he was in the Battle of the Bulge, and all these things," Ron Pyles said.
His father suffered a mental breakdown in the 1960s, and died of heart failure in 1998 at age 72, the younger Pyles said.
"I often wonder if maybe that attributed to his life span," the 53-year-old said. "I had heard somewhere that people that are involved in a combat situation - they think it could take a few years off your life."
Clearly, the effects of war cast a dark, lifelong shadow over Roscoe Pyles.
Turchi called short snorters "the Facebook of the war," and indeed they served as a record of soldiers and aviators traveling together, said Tom Sparks, founder of the Short Snorter Project, a nonprofit that preserves, documents and raises awareness about the relics.
The tradition began with bush pilots in Alaska in the 1920s and peaked during World War II. Servicemen would each autograph the bank note, which one person retained as a keepsake. Later, should the bill holder be unable to produce the note at the request of another signee, he would owe a small glass of liquor - or a short snort, Sparks explained.
The practice became a morale booster, with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt signing a bill, and even movie stars like John Wayne and Gary Cooper offering up signatures, said Sparks, who lives near Seattle.
He figured that thousands of these bills exist around the world - many as collectors' items, some undiscovered and each a happy memory for a veteran somewhere.
"I get to meet a lot of the veterans who served in World War II, and when they find out what I'm up to, it causes this memory to resurface and you see this twinkle in their eye," Sparks said.
When cursory Internet research revealed that the man whose name was clearly etched onto his aging dollar bill entered the military and retired just miles away from his home, Turchi was incredulous.
"What's really sad is I've had this forever, and I was just 10 miles away the whole time," he said. "It's kind of a curiosity. Here's this dollar bill signed in 1945 in Luxembourg and ends up belonging 10 miles away."
Turchi made a telephone call, and learned the soldier had died more than a decade ago, but that his son Ron had taken over his business. The pair arranged to meet there on a rainy afternoon.
When he turned over the bill, Ron Pyles recognized his father's handwriting immediately, reflecting that it was just like his dad to be the only one of his platoon to print, rather than sign, his name.
"It's like a message in a bottle," Ron Pyles said.
The short snorter was a sign of happier times in the war that left such a significant impression on his father, who would have loved to see the bill again, Ron Pyles said.
"He would have been thrilled," he said. "(Turchi) would have loved my dad. They would have gotten along great."
For Turchi, himself a Navy man planning a trip to Normandy with his two World War II-buff sons, looking up Roscoe Pyles after all these years was a patriotic duty of sorts.
"It was kind of like taking him home again," Turchi said.
After the exchange, Ron Pyles matched the other signatures on the bill to those listed on the back of an old black-and-white photograph of his father's platoon. Now he's considering tracking down the other gentlemen.
The younger Pyles also pulled out the delicate paperwork that accompanied his father's Purple Heart, a substantial medal encased in a rickety black leather box lined in gold velour.
The fragile documents explained the location and circumstances of Roscoe Pyles' meritorious injury, and the date: Feb. 7, 1945, the exact day that he and his platoon signed that dollar bill 65 years ago today.
"This was the quiet before the storm," Pyles said. "They probably signed this at lunch and got attacked at night."
Roscoe Pyles spent 21 days in the hospital after shrapnel from a German 88mm tank gun embedded into his thigh bone. The war ended shortly thereafter, and he returned home with an honorable discharge.
And that dollar bill somehow, somewhere got put into circulation, and ended up in Los Angeles County in the hands of Turchi's mother, who passed it on to her son upon her 1975 death.
"It's just eerie," Turchi said.
Someday, Pyles will frame the bill, he said. But for now, it has a place of honor at his bedside, right alongside his father's Purple Heart.
"We were inseparable," Pyles said. "When he died, I was 41, and I was thinking to myself that there were only two weeks of my entire life we weren't together. That was my honeymoon, and I still called him every night."