INKERMAN, Pa. (AP) – After arriving stateside following three years at sea during World War II, Haydn Evans left his Navy barracks in Washington state and didn’t come back for three days. He had some much-deserved partying to do.
When he finally returned from being AWOL, he got to the naval base just in time to see his shipmates hopping aboard a train bound for the East Coast. With no time to retrieve his belongings, he jumped aboard too.
Among the items left behind was a personalized Bible sent to him by the Forty Fort United Methodist Church. He wouldn’t see it again for 73 years.
In early December, a fellow veteran, Charlie Webb from Hattiesburg, Miss., who possessed the Bible contacted the church and was eventually put in touch with Evans.
“I got it back. So that was 70-some years?” Evans, 94, said recently. “I’m not a very religious guy, but it was nice it was returned to me, that he wanted me to have it back.”
Webb’s friend from the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Hattiesburg bought the Bible on eBay years ago and later gave it to Webb.
Webb, 68, used to carry the Bible with him in his VFW Honor Guard uniform pocket.
One day while flipping through it, he saw Evans’ name and decided to try to reunite the Bible with Evans’ family, unsure if the World War II veteran was still alive.
“It dawned on me, I am going to go online and try to find some family or, through the luck of God, find Mr. Evans himself,” Webb said in a phone call.
He had little luck searching online, so he called Evans’ church in Forty Fort. He asked the woman who answered if she knew of Evans or any of his family.
“She said, ‘Yea, I had lunch with Mr. Evans yesterday,’” Webb recalled.
Webb then made arrangements to send the Bible to Evans, who now lives in Wesley Village in Jenkins Township.
After the war, Evans started working as a printer at The Times Leader newspaper, where his father worked. He was one of the nearly 200 people who went on strike and formed The Citizens’ Voice in 1978. He retired in 1987.
Evans, who served aboard the USS New Jersey battleship in the Pacific, said the returned Bible has a sentimental value to him.
“I had it on the ship all during the war,” he said.
Evans said his ship survived many battles.
“I had a gunner down below me. He blew up a twin-engine bomber right in front of us. If he didn’t hit it, it would have hit us,” Evans said.
After the war, Evans’ ship docked at Naval Station Bremerton in Bremerton, Wash., near Seattle, on New Years Eve 1946.
“The whole gang went out on liberty. I was a bad boy. I went AWOL, I guess you can call it. It was a couple of days until I got back to the base,” Evans recalled.
“As I got back, the guys I came home with were all coming out and boarding the train to go home. I didn’t even know where the hell the barracks was. So I just got in line and on the train. My sea bags were left in the barracks, along with Bible. I didn’t see it again until December.”