In History’s Lost and Found, One Soldier’s Watch
ON April 29, 1945, Allied captives at Stalag Luft VII A, a prisoner-of-war camp in southeast Germany, heard the rumbling of artillery in the distance. Lt. Charles B. Woehrle, 28, of the United States Army Air Forces, peered though the barbed wire fence to the town of Moosburg in the Isar River valley below. Plumes of white smoke rose above the village.
Gaunt, unwashed and lice-ridden, Lieutenant Woehrle checked the new Patek Philippe watch on his wrist and noted the time. The watch was stainless steel — an uncommon luxury at the time — with a hand-stitched alligator strap....
German captors, forced marches and a prison barter economy that could have fetched anything for that watch — perhaps even his freedom — had not separated him from his Patek Philippe. But decades later, a burglar in St. Paul did....
After the war, Mr. Woehrle returned home, opened a film company and paid for his watch. All Patek Philippe wanted was about $300, he said — a steal even back then. Every four years, he faithfully sent the watch to Geneva for maintenance, until one day in the mid-1970s his home in St. Paul was burglarized. He scoured the local dealers and pawnshops. The watch was gone....
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