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Soldier's memorabilia found at garage sale returned to family 75 years later

Antique collector finds mementos, asks KSAT for help finding soldier's family

SAN ANTONIO – An extraordinary gift has brought a South Texas military family's history to life. 

On Monday, KSAT ran a story about an antique collector who found a box of a U.S. soldier's memorabilia, including a letter from President Harry Truman. Instead of selling the mementos, Jeanette Malacara wanted help finding Private First Class Kenneth Hackbert or his family.

RELATED: SA antique collector finds soldier's letters, including one from President Truman

Thanks in great part to information from so many KSAT viewers, KSAT reporter Courtney Friedman and photojournalist Robert Samarron were able to track down Hackbert's wife, who lives near San Antonio in South Texas.

"I'm glad they appreciate them! It's a little piece of history (that) stays in the family," said Malacara as she wrapped the papers in plastic and handed them over to the KSAT team to be delivered.

It was a moment Patricia Hackbert could have never prepared for. Her hands shook as she was handed a letter President Truman wrote to her late husband.

"That is really something else. It's touching," she said quietly, smiling ear to ear, with her eyes glued to the 75-year-old letter.

Patricia Hackbert and her nephew, Lorin Wyke, had never seen the letter or any of the military cards or letters, which had been lost for decades.

"This is from Sept. 4, 1942," Hackbert said while looking at a military classification card.

"Wow," Lorin said while smiling up at his daughter, Christian, who is Kenneth Hackbert's great-niece.

They all fawned over the letters that came from Kenneth Hackbert's hometown in Illinois.

"1946. Who's that from?" Lorin asked looking at the first letter.

"His brother. That's who this letter was from. His younger brother," Patricia Hackbert answered. "And this one is from his dad, John Hackbert."

Hackbert got the biggest kick out of one of the military cards.

"Oh!" she yelled with laughter. "A notice to appear for a physical exam."

The afternoon was a roller coaster of joy, nostalgia and gratefulness.

The items had been making their way around garage sales for years, landing at Malacara's San Antonio home.

"I am so thankful to her for not throwing this away or selling it or anything like that," Hackbert said.

She wanted to tell Malacara that herself, so phone numbers were exchanged.

"Hello, Jeanette? This is Patricia Hackbert," she said enthusiastically into the phone.

"I'm glad I'm talking to you and I'm glad we found you," Malacara said.

"Yeah, so am I," Hackbert responded. "I am so thankful for you. God bless you."

Even after the phone call, Wyke still felt surprised, saying, "It is just amazing that these things survived."

The mementos be added to Kenneth Hackbert's already impressive collection. Most of his military memorabilia is from Korea. He served in World War II and the Korean War.

"I didn’t know he was stationed in San Francisco. We never talked about it. We talked about Korea, but we never talked about World War II," Patricia Hackbert said.

Kenneth Hackbert now has letters from two U.S. presidents — one from President Harry Truman when he was honorably discharged and another from President George W. Bush when he passed away.

Kenneth Hackbert was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in 2004, where Patricia was given a flag and the spent casings from his salute.

"Honor, country, service," Wyke said, reciting what the three casings represent. Those casings were displayed with the flag next to several medals. One was the Good Conduct Medal.

Patricia Hackbert's favorite mementos have always been the pictures.

"This is him with a Korean family that he adopted, and then when he left Korea, he gave them the money for their son, and their son went on to be a doctor," she said proudly.

Hackbert picked up another picture and smiled.

"This is him just kicked back and relaxed. Now this is the way I know Ken," she said. "He was a jolly green giant."

"He was," Wyke joined in. "He was way over 6 feet tall. He was just a really, really neat guy and very humble. I don’t think anybody really knew all this."

Hackbert and Wyke handled the new additions to the collection of memories with care. They plan to frame the papers and make a big display.

"My birthday is Monday," Patricia said through tears. "Can I ask for a more beautiful present?"

Pieces of her soul mate's past rested in her hands, bringing him back to her all over again.

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