He searched with his metal detector for months before he found the treasure, hidden for nearly 75 years beneath a forest floor in northwestern France.
Gwen Le Moal wiped it free of mud, revealing a small bracelet, its chain intact. And then he saw the name that will bring him to the middle of Nebraska, thousands of miles from his home.
When he gets to Ravenna next month, he'll get a hero’s welcome, a full serving of Nebraska Nice: They'll put him up in the hotel on main street, buy him a steak or two, show him the buffalo outside of town, throw a small parade.
Eventually, they’ll gather in the city auditorium on Memorial Day, where the 48-year-old will present his discovery -- a military ID bracelet that belonged to a soldier who grew up on a nearby farm, and who didn’t make it back to Buffalo County alive.
Le Moal didn’t envision anything like this when he pulled the bracelet from the ground nearly two years ago.
And even after he’d traced it to Richard Roy Wallace, an infantryman from Ravenna who died less than a month after landing in France, he thought maybe he’d make a quick, quiet trip to the U.S. to return it to the man’s relatives.
But now he’s looking at his calendar each day, he said, eager to be embraced by the people of Ravenna.
“I’m really happy about all of that,” he said in an email this week, his English choppy but his excitement clear. “And I know I’m really lucky to be in this story.”
* * *
The older of two sons, Dick Wallace was raised on a farm near Ravenna. These were hard times, the early 1930s, and he quit school his senior year to support his family, said Rick Wallace, his nephew.
“All the money he made, he’d give to his mom,” he said.
He joined the Army in December 1942 and landed in France in July 1944, in the bloody weeks after D-Day. He was wounded Aug. 8 in what a newspaper described as “the terrible fighting at the battle of St. Malo,” and died in a military hospital two days later.
At the time, Pvt. Wallace, 29, was the Ravenna area’s ninth loss to the war.
His body remained in France for four years, at the U.S. cemetery in St. James. Wallace's mother had been waiting for his return, and she was more at ease when he was finally home and buried west of town, Rick Wallace said.
His brother, Bob, had also served overseas, survived the Battle of the Bulge and, years later, wrote his autobiography.
Dick was a better kid than he was, he wrote. “Poor guy sure didn’t get many pleasures out of life but he was the finest gentleman and brother anyone could ever have.”
* * *
Marty Russell opened her email last fall: A woman in England was trying to learn about a Ravenna-area veteran, and wondered if Russell could help.
Russell, the researcher for the Historical Society of Ravenna, told the woman she was born in an Army hospital, her father served 20 years, and she belonged to the VFW and American Legion auxiliaries.
“She said, ‘You’ll do.’ And she said, ‘I have a friend in France, his hobby is doing metal detecting and finding artifacts from World War II.”
Le Moal, that friend, had been trying to unravel the story of Richard Wallace since June 2016, when he found the bracelet south of St. Malo.
His metal detecting allows him to spend hours in the forest. It relaxes him. He thinks about the battles that unfolded there decades ago, and tries to picture the soldiers and what they had gone through.
He’s especially interested in the Battle of St. Malo, and he’d heard from old-timers the U.S. military had operated a hospital for several weeks in the summer of 1944.
“Then I spent many months with my metal detector on this area, try to find some evidences and relics,” he wrote in an email. He found Wallace’s ID bracelet — like a dog tag but for the wrist — about 3 feet down in a garbage pit full of medical equipment, bottles, syringes and patient possessions.
“What a wonderful feeling to discover it,” he wrote. “In the mud, but shiny.”
* * *
Le Moal searched for information about Pvt. Wallace, and found nothing at first. He contacted the cemetery in St. James, but it had no records.
He started thinking: Maybe the soldier is still alive. Maybe he recovered from his injuries.
But later, he found a photo of Wallace’s grave west of Ravenna. He was relieved to know what had happened, but sad the stranger who’d worn this bracelet hadn’t survived in the forest in 1944.
Ravenna is happy to accept it on Wallace’s behalf. They’re inviting dignitaries to the Memorial Day presentation — they haven’t heard back from the governor yet — and moving the annual program inside, to the comfort of the auditorium, to accommodate their two surviving World War II veterans.
They already have a shadow box for the bracelet.
Le Moal is eager to bring it home. He's paying his own way. He served in the military, too, and feels a link to Wallace.
“As a soldier, dog tag is our passport,” he wrote. “This passport is not mine.”
But it is his duty, he said, to return it.
Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon on Tuesday formally filed a request signed by 13 senators to poll all 49 state legislators on the question of summoning the Legislature back into special session later this year to deal with property tax reduction.
At least 33 of the 49 members of the Legislature would need to agree with the call for a special session for it to occur, and that's a daunting figure to achieve.
Two metropolitan Omaha senators joined 11 senators from outside the Omaha-Lincoln urban complex in signing the request submitted to Secretary of State John Gale.
The 13 senators who signed the letter represent 75 percent of the land mass in Nebraska, Brewer noted.
The effort mounted by Brewer comes on the heels of an impasse in the Legislature over competing tax reform packages largely focused on property tax relief. The 2018 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn next week.
Responding to the bid to summon a special session, Gov. Pete Ricketts reacted with a negative tweet: "As long as senators remain fixated on increasing taxes, we should not even be considering a special session. No tax hikes!"
"I can't tell the people in my district I have tried everything until I've actually tried everything," Brewer said.
"If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting," he said.
Property taxes are "killing our state," Brewer said.
"You can join me and be part of the solution or you can be a poster child for why we need to pass the ballot initiative in November," he said.
Hanging over the Legislature is a statewide petition drive to place a billion-dollar property tax reduction initiative on the November general election ballot.
"This is a 'put your money where your mouth is' moment," Brewer said. "It's time to stand up and be counted."
Signing the letter in addition to Brewer were Sens. Steve Erdman of Bayard, Steve Halloran of Hastings, Tom Briese of Albion, Mike Groene of North Platte, Bruce Bostelman of Brainard, Curt Friesen of Henderson, Justin Wayne of Omaha, John Lowe of Kearney, Tyson Larson of O'Neill, Joni Albrecht of Thurston, John Murante of Gretna and Dan Hughes of Venango.
At least 10 signatures were required to launch the process of polling the senators.
Government and other scientists are proposing a new way to define Alzheimer's disease — basing it on biological signs, such as brain changes, rather than memory loss and other symptoms of dementia that are used today.
The move is aimed at improving research, by using more objective criteria such as brain scans to pick patients for studies and enroll them sooner in the course of their illness, when treatments may have more chance to help.
But it's too soon to use these scans and other tests in routine care, because they haven't been validated for that yet, experts stress. For now, doctors will still rely on the tools they've long used to evaluate thinking skills to diagnose most cases.
Regardless of what tests are used to make a diagnosis, the new definition will have a startling effect: Many more people will be considered to have Alzheimer's, because the biological signs can show up 15 to 20 years before symptoms do.
"The numbers will increase dramatically," said Dr. Clifford R. Jack Jr., a Mayo Clinic brain-imaging specialist. "There are a lot more cognitively normal people who have the pathology in the brain who will now be counted as having Alzheimer's disease."
He led a panel of experts, working with the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging, that updated guidelines on the disease, published Tuesday in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.
About 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common form. In the U.S., about 5.7 million have Alzheimer's under its current definition, which is based on memory problems and other symptoms. About one-third of people over 70 who show no thinking problems actually have brain signs that suggest Alzheimer's, Jack said.
There is no cure — current medicines such as Aricept and Namenda just temporarily ease symptoms. Dozens of hoped-for treatments have failed, and doctors think one reason may be that the studies enrolled patients after too much brain damage had already occurred.
"By the time that you have the diagnosis of the disease, it's very late," said Dr. Eliezer Masliah, neuroscience chief at the Institute on Aging.
"What we've realized is that you have to go earlier and earlier and earlier," just as doctors found with treating cancer, he said.
Another problem: as many as 30 percent of people enrolled in Alzheimer's studies based on symptoms didn't actually have the disease — they had other forms of dementia or even other medical conditions. That doesn't give an accurate picture of whether a potential treatment might help, and the new definition aims to improve patient selection by using brain scans and other tests.
Many other diseases, such as diabetes, already are defined by measuring a biomarker, an objective indicator such as blood sugar. That wasn't possible for Alzheimer's disease until a few years ago, when brain scans and spinal fluid tests were developed to do this.
They measure certain forms of two proteins — amyloid and tau — that form plaques and tangles in the brain — and signs of nerve injury, degeneration and brain shrinkage.
The guidelines spell out use of these biomarkers over a spectrum of mental decline, starting with early brain changes, through mild impairment and Alzheimer's dementia.
People may be worried and want these tests for themselves or a family member now, but Jack advises: "Don't bother. There's no proven treatment yet."
You might find a doctor willing to order them, but spinal fluid tests are somewhat invasive, and brain scans can cost up to $6,000. Insurance usually does not pay, because they're considered experimental outside of research. A large study is underway now to see whether Medicare should cover them and when.
Anyone with symptoms or family history of dementia, or even healthy people concerned about the risk can consider enrolling in one of the many studies underway.
"We need more people in this pre-symptomatic stage" to see if treatments can help stave off decline, Masliah said.