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WW II-era ring swapped for chocolate finally makes its way home

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Martin Kiss, right, and his U.S. neighbor Mark Turner hold photos of a golden ring which Kiss received from his grandparents in Herrieden, southern Germany.  (AP Photo/Daniel Karmann)
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Martin Kiss, right, and his U.S. neighbor Mark Turner hold photos of the gold ring Kiss was given by his grandparents in Herrieden, southern Germany.  (Daniel Karmann/AP)

A ring traded by a World War II POW for chocolate bars has finally come home to his family 70 years later, The Associated Press reports.

The POW, 2nd Lt. David C. Cox, a U.S. bomber pilot, had been shot down over Germany and was being held at Stalag VII-A, the camp made famous in the Steve McQueen film, "The Great Escape."

The camp was a miserable place by the time Cox ended up there, the AP reports, and was "barely correct by the standards of the Geneva Convention." Red Cross packages had stopped coming, and Cox and his fellow POWs lived on bug-infested rations.

After a year and a half at the camp, Cox, a North Carolina native, was desperate. That's when he made a difficult decision, according to the AP. He took off his treasured gold ring — a gift from his parents and inscribed with his name, birthday and hometown — and traded it for a couple of chocolate bars from an Italian POW. The chocolate was worth its weight in gold to the hungry pilot, who would never see the ring again.

According to the AP, the ring is believed to have come into the hands of a Russian solider who traded it for a night’s room and board at a pub in modern-day Serbia. The pub was owned by the grandparents of Martin Kiss, who was given the ring in 1971 for luck when he moved to Germany.

Kiss, now 64, kept the ring in a jar and wondered how to get it back to its American owner. When Americans Mark and Mindy Turner moved in next door to Kiss in the Bavarian village of Hohenberg, he enlisted their help.

Mark Turner, an air traffic controller for the U.S. Army installation in Ansbach, was able to find the name of the pilot through an Internet search. He also found a 219-page thesis posted on the Web from 2005 by Norwood McDowell for North Carolina State University. The thesis focused on the war diary of his wife's grandfather, David C. Cox Sr. — the name inscribed on the ring, notes the AP. Then, on Page 179, there was the story of the ring being swapped for chocolate.

"It just seemed like it couldn't be true," Turner told the AP.

Turner emailed McDowell the ring’s inscription, and McDowell contacted the bomber pilot's 67-year-old son, also named David Cox.

“That’s it for sure,” Cox said when he saw the photo.

“Well, praise the Lord!” the AP quotes Mindy Turner as saying. “We are so excited for your family!”

 Kiss eventually put the ring in the mail for its final journey home.

Cox’s friends and family gathered at his Raleigh, N.C., home to watch him open the package. "I feel his presence," Cox told the AP about his father. "I wish he was here."

In a phone interview with the AP, Kiss mentioned that his grandfather had spent a few years in a Soviet prison camp and added that his "only regret is that David Cox Sr. and his grandmother weren't alive to share the 'happy ending.'"

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