World War II helmet returned from France to Cherokee County

Seventy years after an American soldier came home from World War II, his helmet returned to the United States.

Chris Abney Dendy currently has her father's helmet on display at her Cherokee County home.{} It's an item she didn't know existed until recently, and she never expected to be able to hold it in her hands.

"To know that he put it on his head and wore it, it's like being there with him," she said.

Her father, William Luther Abney, Jr., died in 1997 and is buried in La Fayette, Georgia, where he later became a lawyer, local politician and probate judge.

A retired dentist from Paris, Michel Desplat, recently inherited the helmet from his uncle before beginning a search for the rightful owner.{} Desplat managed to trace Abney to the small Georgia town after discovering the solder's name inside the helmet earlier this year.

"He found our father's name inside the helmet here, William L. Abney, and his army I.D. number, and he went online and tracked it down," Dendy said.

She was surprised to learn France has a public database that lists many of the American soldiers who served there during the war.{} It listed Abney's hometown and registration, and from there Desplat found cemetery records which named Abney's children.

Desplat located an address for one of the daughters, who still lives in La Fayette, and mailed a letter.{} However, Dendy said that it was her sister's old work address and had not been used for 20 years.

Fortunately, one of the benefits of being in a small town where your father was probate judge for 31 years means you're probably well-known around town.

"One of the people at the post office knew my sister, and recognized the name, so even though it was in the dead letter file, she forwarded it to my sister and it's just been a wonderful thing," Dendy said.

The sisters got in touch with Desplat via email and after getting a correct mailing address, he quickly shipped the helmet overseas..{} He declined to accept payment for the shipping costs, writing "we are indebted to the men like your father."

Dendy said she is still curious how her father made it back from the war without his helmet, and wonders what happened to it before it made its way into the hands of Desplat.

Although she will likely never get those answers, Dendy said it was overwhelming to simply have her father's helmet.

"Receiving the helmet was really an emotional experience for me and my sisters because it's like having a small piece of Dad back with us," Dendy said.