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Michigan genealogist helps link World War II artifact found in France with soldier's son in U.S.

Megan Heyl had two images of the bracelet, which had a name and a serial number engraved on it. Five days later, what had been lost for 75 years was heading home.

HOLLAND, Mich. — Karma is defined as, "The sum of a person's actions."

It can be good or bad.

The "good" kind of karma recently helped connect three people through the most random of circumstances, which saw a World War II artifact found in France travel 4,000 miles to be returned to a soldier's family in the United States.

But not before an unexpected detour through Holland, Michigan.

Credit: Kevin Grenot
Kevin Grenot was metal detecting in a World War II battlefield in France when he found a bracelet that belonged to U.S. Army Sgt. Marshall Phillips.

In 2012, Kevin Grenot, who lives in Gugnecourt, Lorraine, France, was metal detecting in a large field where battles were fought during World War II. As he was slowly walking the field, he knew his detector had picked up on something significant.

"I started digging and about 10 inches down I found a bracelet," said Grenot. "I took it home, cleaned it up, and saw there was a name and serial number engraved on it. I was certain I had found an artifact from World War II that had been lost to time."

Credit: Kevin Grenot
This is the World War II battlefield in France where Kevin Grenot used his metal detector to find Marshall Phillips' lost military I.D. bracelet.

Grenot initially reached out to some French authorities to see if they could help him possibly connect the bracelet to any surviving family members of the soldier, but all his efforts led to dead ends.

Grenot ultimately put the bracelet in a drawer and forgot about it for close to eight years. 

He decided to try again in January 2020.

"Someone said to me, 'You have to contact Megan Heyl,'" said Grenot.

Grenot went online and found Heyl's website and sent her an email, requesting help.

"On January 11, I received an email from a man whose name I didn't recognize," said Heyl, who has been a professional genealogist for over 20 years and is based in Holland, Michigan. "He said he found a bracelet and sent me two photos of it."

The photos showed the front of the bracelet which had the name "M.G. Phillips" and a serial number engraved on it.

"That's all I had to go on to start," said Heyl. 

Heyl, who says she loves a good challenge, says she barely slept for the next five days, leveraging her resources with the hopes of reconnecting the bracelet with any existing relatives of the soldier.

Credit: Megan Heyl
Megan Heyl only had two images of the bracelet to work with when she started trying to find out who it belonged to. It only took 5 days of research.

"I checked birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, military records, land and tax records," said Heyl. "I needed to find anything that would have created a paper-trail for this person's life."

Heyl says the serial number was the key that led to the soldier's identification.

"His name was U.S. Army Sergeant Marshall Glenn Phillips and he is from Pilot Mountain, North Carolina," said Heyl. "He passed away in 1986, but several of his descendants still live in that area."

Heyl says she reached back out to Grenot to let him know that she'd identified who the bracelet belonged to, and was going to attempt to reach out to Mr. Phillips' only surviving son, Linvill, to let him know his father's WWII bracelet had been found.

"When I called Linvill, he said I had the wrong family," Heyl said. "I told him, "No, no I don't."

Heyl says she began walking Linvill through all of her research, which ultimately led to him believing the phone call wasn't a scam.

"I remember as a kid, my daddy telling my brother and I that he'd lost a bracelet while fighting in the war in France," said Linvill, 80. "I never thought anymore about it until Megan contacted me."

Credit: Lisha Phillips
Marshall Glenn Phillips was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. He lost his I.D. bracelet in France. It was found and returned to his family 75 years later.

Soon after learning that Megan had linked the bracelet to the Phillips family, he shipped it to her, but it got hung up in French customs for three months when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The box eventually arrived in New York, where it was held for another three months.

"Kevin shipped the bracelet to me in February and I didn't get it until the last week of August," said Heyl. "When it arrived, the box was crushed and there was a huge hole in it.

"How it stayed in the box from France, through New York and all the way to Holland, without falling out, is a miracle itself."

Once the bracelet was in hand, her next move was figuring out a way to get the bracelet to Linvill. She didn't want to mail it to him because of the condition of how it arrived from France.

"She told me she was going to drive it down and hand-deliver it to me," said Linvill. "I told her she didn't have to do that, but that's what she wanted to do."

In early September, Heyl drove 700 miles from her home in Holland to Linvill's home in North Carolina.

"I grew up knowing that when a soldier falls that he is escorted home," said Heyl. "This needed to be escorted home."

When Heyl arrived in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina, she handed Linvill the box containing his father's wartime bracelet. He opened it and was overcome with emotions.

Credit: Megan Heyl
Linvill Phillips (left) is grateful to receive his father's WWII U.S. Army I.D. bracelet which had been lost in a field in France for more than 70 years.

"I still can't hardly believe it," said Linvill. "I look at it and I think, 'How could this happen,' but, it's happened."

For Heyl, she says returning the bracelet to Linvill is by far the most rewarding moment of her genealogical career.

"I don't think this can be topped," Heyl said.

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