Feature Chance find in Germany touches Vinemont veteran’s family | The Cullman Tribune


Chance find in Germany touches Vinemont veteran’s family

A pocket knife inscribed “Prentice W. Ball” and “Vinemont Alabama” was found by Ronald van Meesen while metal detecting WWII foxholes in Alpen, Germany. / Photo courtesy Ronald van Meesen/Footsteps Researchers

VINEMONT - On Easter Sunday, Ronald van Meesen was pursuing his pastime of metal detecting World War II sites around the town of Alpen, in the Rhineland region of Germany, when he stumbled upon a most unusual find.  In the remains of an American foxhole, he hit on and dug up a pocket knife inscribed with a name and hometown: “Prentice W. Ball” and “Vinemont Alabama.”

The find is being handled by Footsteps Researchers (FR), a company with offices in St. Louis, Missouri and the Netherlands that works to piece together the lives and careers of military veterans on behalf of their families and descendants.  

Myra Miller, with the St. Louis FR office, told The Tribune, “This knife with that type of a scratch on it, that is rare, especially with the name of a town. Sometimes we get names, last names, or initials, but not anything this good. I mean this is rare.”

The finder contacted his son Joey van Meesen, a Netherlands-based WWII historian with FR, to notify him of the find.  Then, with first-hand access to American and European military archives, researchers began looking for a Prentice W. Ball who served in the war.

With a little digging they discovered a Vinemont, Alabama native by that exact name who served in Company A, 117th Regiment, 30th Infantry Division in the U.S. Army during the division’s post-D-Day campaign through France and Germany in 1944 and 1945. Then they found that, between March 18 and 25, 1945, the 117th Regiment was encamped in Alpen: right place, right time, right unit, right name, and they could even point to the right foxhole!

Then the researchers found some very sweet icing for their cake: though Ball himself passed away many years ago, members of his family still live in north Alabama. They were able to get in touch with daughter Sheri Ball Mize and begin planning the knife’s return.

Mize told The Tribune, “My sisters, Jo Ann Ball Dempsey and Jean Ball Gilbreath, and I are overjoyed about our dad’s knife being found and returned to us.  We are honored they want to bring his knife home to Alabama and return it to us personally. We can never thank Footsteps Researchers enough for going above and beyond to find us and make sure our dad’s knife would be returned to his family.  To be found, dug out of the ground of a foxhole in Germany 73 years later is amazing, and means the world to us. We wanted the knife returned to us in Cullman County because that is what we felt he would have wanted. Cullman County is where he grew up, in the community of Battleground, and where he graduated high school from West Point in 1935.  Cullman County was always his heart and home no matter where he lived."

FR’s Miller will visit Alabama in mid-May to meet Ball’s family members and personally return the knife to them as part of the company’s “Legacy Lost and Found” service.  The company also plans to give a presentation on the discovery of the knife, and on its research. This will be done at no cost to the family. The event is tentatively scheduled for May 20 at West Point High School.

Said Miller, “We’re going to deliver to her at our cost . . . We do charge for research, but we don’t charge when we’re trying to assist people to return items to the family members, because we think that’s the right thing to do.  We think that if somebody has found something, and we can find the family, it needs to go back to the family, and we try to help with that.”

Said Mize, “We would like to invite family, friends and the community to West Point High School on Sunday May 20, 2018 at 2 p.m. when the family will receive the knife.  We want to thank West Point High School Principal Heith Yearwood for his generosity to have this event at the school.”

FR's Miller noted that the schedule for the event is still tentative at this point. The Tribune plans to cover the return of the knife and present more of Prentice Ball’s story as part of our observance of this year's Memorial Day holiday.

For more information about Footsteps Researchers and their current projects, visit http://footstepsresearchers.com.

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  • Prentice Ball served in Company A, 117th Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, taking part in the division’s campaigns in France and Germany in 1944-45.