WWII pilot’s cap returned to Roanoke after stranger finds it in French auction

Published: Nov. 23, 2020 at 7:01 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Even several years after his death, a World War II veteran is still surprising his family.

A piece from the Roanoke native’s wartime years was sitting in a museum in France until a stranger in Europe started asking questions.

“Well, I’ve always liked history,” said Janie Simon.

Simon is a woman who spends much of her day in the past.

“It’s my first Zoom call,” she said while getting her microphone to connect, “So sorry!”

Simon, who now lives in the Netherlands, said she devotes much of her time to studying WWII.

“The home front stories, the stories of the soldiers, that element of the war really fascinates me.” she said.

So too does the memorabilia, the things our soldiers left behind; some of which she recently found in a French online auction.

“It was just a rainy day and I was sitting with a cup of coffee and decided I would just scroll through the auction items.”

One item in particular made her pause mid-scroll.

It was an American pilot’s cap with a name of its owner in the description.

“I couldn’t scroll past that,” she said, “because I immediately start to think, who was this man?”

Who was E.B. Thrasher Jr?

Simon started researching.

She followed a digital trail that led her to a home in Roanoke; filled now, mostly, with memories.

“Yeah, he’s been gone for three years now and it’s, it’s been hard,” said the woman who lives in that Cave Spring home.

Sue Thrasher, 90, is the widow of Ernest Boyce Thrasher, Jr.: a man she fell in love with in 1956 and said goodbye to in 2017.

“I met him across the street on the golf course,” she said chuckling and pointing.

Their love and their life was a good one, albeit devoid of war stories.

Before marrying, Thrasher spent four years in service, enlisting just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He piloted a B-24 bomber, based in Manduria, Italy, serving in the 450th Bombardment Group (H), 47th Wing, 15th Air Force, United States Army. His group, the 721st squadron, was among those charged with destroying Nazi infrastructure from the skies.

“That’s pretty much, growing up, that’s all I knew,” said Andrew Thrasher, the youngest of E.B. Thrasher Jr’s four children.

Andrew Thrasher said he can’t recall his father ever talking about the war. That’s why it was quite a shock when an internet stranger messaged his wife on Facebook about the hat a few weeks ago.

“First you’re kinda like, well, is this really real?”

Andrew’s older brother, Richard Thrasher, along with his mom and other siblings were skeptical.

That is until the picture proof was undeniable.

“On the inside where his signature was, that’s his hat!” said Steve Thrasher.

“Yeah that’s his,” Andrew Thrasher said, recalling the photos.

“I knew it was my dad’s signature,” Richard Thrasher agreed.

“I was dumbfounded!” said Sue Thrasher. “I couldn’t believe it! I still don’t believe it!”

“I feel like he is giving his family like this little wink and nudge,” said Simon. “...and it’s like, okay, yes, I left this earthly world in 2017 but I want you to have this cap.”

With the family’s blessing, Simon helped secure the hat at auction. She solicited the help of a friend, whose grandfather, she said, died in a concentration camp.

In securing the cap, Simon said she was able to share her research on Thrasher with the family and help shed a little more light on those years in the sky.

“He’d probably love it,” Andrew Thrasher said of his dad. “He could probably tell us why his hat’s still over there!”

The hat that carries the mysteries and the memories of the man in flight.

“I’m proud of him for being my dad, I’m proud of his service,” said Steve Thrasher, “and that we love him very much.”

It’s a love and appreciation of service earning a hat tip to sacrifice.

“I’m so honored just to be a little tiny part in being able to return something to this family,” said Simon.

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