Twenty-five dollars' worth of a $16.7 billion treasure rests in Etha Bailey's memory box in Sand Key. It's in the form of a World War II bond her father bought in her name when she was a little girl. It rests alongside the silver dollars she got for never missing church and the single franc her uncle mailed to her after he fought his way ashore at Normandy in 1944.
The federal government says $16.7 billion worth of World War II bonds were never cashed in. The bonds are still good. But after more than 70 years, it's assumed that most are lost and most of their owners have passed away.
Etha Bailey, 72 now, was just 7 when her father bought her a $25 bond to teach her about saving. But that's not what she remembers most about her bond.
She remembers she got it the year a military training plane crashed near the Lynches River in Hartsville, S.C., close to her home.
She and her parents saw the plane coming down, over the trees, lower and lower. They heard a terrible explosion. She ran with her parents to try to rescue survivors.
"All the community rushed there," she recalls, "only to see a hole about the depth of a three-story home."
They found the burned bodies of a pilot and co-pilot.
"That crash gave the community an eye opener into actual happenings of the war and the bodies of the servicemen returned home," she said.
The uncle who sent her a franc after D-Day was himself severely wounded and never fully recovered.
And that's why her bond and franc stay locked in her memory box.
Only, she asked Monday, where did she leave the key?
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Patrick Santelli keeps a single $25 war bond framed on the wall at home in Pinellas Park. He bought many bonds after joining the Navy a month after his 17th birthday. He's 83 now.
After the war, most of his bonds went to remodel his parents' house and pay for a new gas heater. But he kept one.
It reminds him of the destroyer escort he served on, first in the Atlantic, later in the Pacific. The ship was painted gray when he went on leave in 1945. When he got back after 10 days it was painted black.
That meant it was ready for a night invasion of Japan. Destroyer escorts would have led the way.
Then came Hiroshima. He still gives thanks he never had to make that trip.
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Ed Brown remembers paying a dime a week in 1944 for stamps for his war bond book. He was 8 years old, growing up in Yonkers. A book filled with stamps could be swapped at the post office for a $25 bond.
Brown still has one war bond and two partially filled books at home in Dunnellon. He is 73.
Saving a dime a week wasn't easy in 1944. An 8-year-old boy could buy a lot of temptation for 10 cents.
"You could spend all day Sunday at the theater. You could sit through two shows and the cartoons."
The war bonds stopped accruing interest about 30 years ago. Brown found out his $25 bond is now worth about $100. "I thought the heck with it. I'll just keep it."
He asked what the government planned to do with that $16.7 billion. He wasn't exactly pleased when told that six states, Florida not among them, are suing the Treasury Department to claim it.
"Keep their grubby fingers off it," the dime saver bellowed. "They get enough out of me as it is."
John Barry can be reached at (727) 892-2258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.