It came through an online message board from a village in eastern France. Attached was a photo of a standard-issue U.S. Army duffel bag, and the name on it in faded block letters was unmistakable:
WILLIAM A. KADAR.
"I can't believe this," Arleen Haas, 33, recalled thinking as she looked at the photo again and again. Kadar, her grandfather, had fought in eastern France during World War II, winning a Purple Heart and enduring a string of POW camps in the closing months of the war.
Haas has spent much of her life collecting and preserving memories for her grandfather, now 93, who she says has given her so much. She saw the duffel as one more way to help Kadar stop time — if only for a moment. His ability to remember has been fading, much like those block letters.
"This duffel bag might just spark something," she remembers thinking. "It would just blow his mind."
Several years ago, Kadar agreed to talk about the war as part of a documentary project. The former tech sergeant, wisps of white hair showing, seemed to enjoy telling the old stories. But that wasn't always so.
"The whole time we were growing up, we were told he didn't want to talk about it," said Lynn Sattler, Haas' mother and eldest of Kadar's five children.
Still, reminders filled Kadar's basement in Merrillville, Ind., where large and colorful medals covered the walls. There was also a small sheathed sword bearing a swastika squirreled away in a cabinet.
"In fourth or fifth grade, I remember being kind of fascinated that he was in the military," Haas said. "When you're a kid, you see a military medal and you are like, 'That was the coolest thing.'"
Kadar was with the 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, in France in October 1944. He described how he and his fellow soldiers helped free the French town of Bruyeres from Nazi occupation. Some nights, sleep never came. The fighting "was day and night," he said.
His wartime combat led to his Purple Heart. Then he spent several months in German POW camps, where prisoners were shot, food was scarce and there was no heat.
"Our food, gee," Kadar said. With soup, "you wondered what was in it. Potato soup, you were lucky if you got a piece of potato."
When liberation came in late April 1945, he figured he had lost 100 pounds.
Those stories enthralled Haas. "It's like being a superhero," she said.
When Haas turned 18, she signed up for the Army Reserve without telling her parents.
Stationed in Germany in 2004, she decided to retrace Kadar's wartime journey. She snapped pictures along the way, of the small French towns he traveled through, of the countryside, of the former prison camps.
That journey complete, Haas picked up a book with a black leather cover and filled its bare white sheets with her grandpa's stories. She tucked the photos inside and sent him the memento, postmarked from Germany.
Memories returned, and Kadar thanked his granddaughter. As time went on, he turned to the book to retrieve moments that had temporarily vanished with age.
Once Haas returned to the U.S., she set out to find a man her grandfather had often talked about, the one who had helped him check for mines along a bridge in France to prepare the way for Allied tanks. The one Kadar called the best soldier there was.