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BATAVIA TWP., Ohio - Ryan Hamm didn't think too much of it when a box of canteens arrived at GSM Recycling in Batavia Township a week ago.
"I thought they were a bunch of Boy Scout canteens," Hamm said Friday.
After all, GSM recycles a wide range of aluminum scrap into reusable products.
"We get everything from decommissioned license plates and road signs to amusement park rides and softball bats," he said. "Anything made of aluminum, we get it."
However, when GSM Plant Manager Rob McClain took a closer look at one of the canteens, the Army veteran knew he'd found a diamond in the rough.
"I happened to turn one over and see what possibly looked like a name on the bottom of it," McClain said. "I got intrigued by it, took it to my office and cleaned it up."
Much to his surprise, McClain discovered the name "Don Magnuson" clearly etched into the bottom of the aluminum vessel and the state name "Nebraska" listed below it. The apparent year "1943" was visible on one of the sides as well.
McClain got excited and decided he would do what he could to try and return the canteen to Magnuson as an honor on Veterans Day.
"I just thought it would be pretty neat to find this guy, find out a little bit about him and how it got to this point," McClain said.
Fellow Army veteran Rob Collier, GSM's maintenance coordinator, took on the challenge of trying to find Magnuson.
"I basically took the guy's name and typed it into a White Pages search on Google," Collier said. "Probably six or seven people came up."
Remembering the year 1943, Collier knew he was going to be looking for someone that was fairly old, so he singled one name out.
"I hit it the first time," Collier said. "I don't know how. It was amazing."
The search led to Lexington, Neb. and Donald D. Magnuson, who is now 91 years old.
"Just imagine the stories, where he had been, where that thing had been and it ended up here in a box of scrap aluminum," Collier marveled. "What are the chances of that?"
It turns out Magnuson was part of a bomber crew that served in Italy for six months during the heat of the war. He flew in 59 successful bomb flights -- raids in and out of Italy -- averaging three or four a week apiece.
Since Magnuson's hearing isn't what it used to be, Collier talked to his wife, Gail, several times.
Collier asked her if the canteen belonged to her husband.
"He didn't know, but he thought it was kind of interesting," Gail told Collier. "But, knowing Don, he had his name on everything, so I wouldn't be a bit surprised."
GSM will soon send the canteen and an American flag to Nebraska.
"I think when Don sees the canteen, it will probably ring a bell with him," Gail added. "I'm sure."
"It's certainly yours to do with what you please," McClain replied. "I'm just glad that we can get it to you."
Reflecting on the whirlwind days leading up to that conversation, McClain called them amazing.
"It was very interesting and uplifting to know that there's somebody still out there from World War II and we have a piece of his history," he said.
Collier termed the experience "fantastic."
"If I had been in the situation and someone had found something that belonged to me that I inscribed with my name, I think I would probably want it back," he said. "I think it's a noble cause. I really do. I think it's awesome."
Hamm said luck played a big role in the canteen/veteran reunion as well.
"Normally the items that come in here would get shredded and melted," he said. "The fact that this was actually pulled out of the scrap is amazing."
GMS President Chris Hamm is also sending a letter to Magnuson thanking him for his service.
"Your military service was very rewarding and uplifting to all that have heard this story," Hamm wrote. "It is a privilege to return this small piece of your past to you and your family."
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