WWII canteen lost in France, returned to soldier’s Midstate family

“We are known here for our very good breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” said Bashay Bashay, the manager of the Hi Life Diner on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township.

“We treat everybody just like family,” Bashay added proudly and with a large smile.

On Tuesday afternoon, there was something extra special on the menu.

“It’s a little bit fragile,” said Glyn Nightingale, as he gingerly removed a metal object from a cardboard box.

Nightingale traveled from England to deliver the package to Jim Alspaugh of Carlisle. He made the hand-off at a table in the diner.

Shiny and new, it wasn’t. It was an old, rusty canteen.

“If you look on the bottom, you can see the initials JRA,” Nightingale explained.

JRA for John Alspaugh, Jim’s brother, who passed in 1994.

“There you go,” Nightingale said. “Back to the family.”

With that, an important heirloom was returned to its heirs. The canteen was last used by John in July, 1944 in Normandy, France about a month after D-Day. John Alspaugh was a member of the 83rd Infantry Division, A Company. Nightingale happens to spend half the year in Normandy, France, where he owns a home. He says the 83rd walked through what his now his backyard. One of his neighbors, a Frenchman named Simone, dug up Alspaugh’s canteen and turned it over to Nightingale, who is a World War II researcher and sleuth.

Digging up artifacts and the clues to their origin, Nightingale says, is far easier than digging up the relatives of soldiers that owned the stuff. He’s had Alspaugh’s canteen since 2009.

“The difficult bit is to get the Americans to answer the phone,” Nightingale said. “I struggle with that, being English, they think it’s a scam.”

Nightingale says a Facebook page devoted to the 83rd was a big help. Ironically, it was started by Camp Hill’s Mark Miller, who’s dad, Mallon, served in the same unit as John Alspaugh. Miller said he never expected the page would be so popular and said it now has more than a thousand members. It’s not the first time Facebook has assisted in reuniting artifacts with soldiers or their families.

“It’s like hitting the lottery, it really is,” Miller said.

He was thrilled to play a role in Tuesday’s reunion so close to his hometown.

“Sure, it’s beat up. Yeah, it’s got a couple of pock marks in it. But that doesn’t matter,” Miller said. “It’s the canteen that belonged to his brother and that’s priceless, just priceless.”

In terms of dollars and cents, the canteen is actually worthless. But for Jim, it’s a tangible piece of John’s life in the war. Jim says his brother never talked about his service after coming home and becoming a state worker. Which is shocking because he had lots to tell.

John Alspaugh was in the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded and earned a Purple Heart. He earned a bravery medal. There’s even a photo of John shaking hands with General George Patton.

And now there’s a weathered hunk of metal which might just be the best thing Jim’s ever been served in a diner.

“It means the world to me,” Jim said.

Why?

A simple question that caused the 79-year-old’s eyes to fill with tears.

“Because it was my brother.”

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