WWII's unclaimed Treasure: unpaid War bonds

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Nearly 70 years ago, the federal government began issuing hundreds of billions of dollars in savings bonds to finance the greatest war effort in the nation's history, with no less than President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who summoned patriotic Americans to "one great partnership," buying the very first.

But the bonds came with a catch: They wouldn't be paid off for 40 years, an unusually long time. As the decades passed after World War II, $16.7 billion worth of bond certificates were either forgotten in dusty attics or thrown out in the trash.

That treasure has remained unclaimed. But now, someone is stepping forward: the states.

A half-dozen state governments have filed a lawsuit against the federal government to get that money. They say the Treasury Department has done nothing to find the original bondholders or their descendants -- not even sending out a letter when it came time for the government to repay the bonds. Moreover, the states say they have laws that empower them to take for themselves whatever goes unclaimed, which would be a welcome infusion of cash at a time of economic distress.

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