A cup full of memories: WWII veteran's mess kit item lost in 1945, returned in 2021
By MEREDITH TIBBETTS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 28, 2021
Bullets ricocheted off trees and gunfire echoed through the forests. It was the winter of 1945, as Harold Radish, a Jewish teen from Brooklyn, New York, made his way through the Luxembourg forests along the Siegfried Line with the 90th Infantry Division.
Far from the 19-year-old's mind would have been his mess kit, and with it a standard Army cup reissued from World War I. At some point in the chaos of World War II, that cup was left behind on the forest floor, crushed and covered with soil in the following decades.
Seventy-five years later, Fernand Weis would find the cup and see a name etched into it. And in January 2021, that cup would find its way back into Radish’s hands in Queens.
“This guy sent me an email from Luxembourg. He reminded me of things that I’ve forgotten about,” Radish said. “He knew the exact dates that I was there with my regiment at the Bastogne going toward Germany,” Radish said. “He found this cup from my mess kit. Somehow I had scratched my name on the back.”
Weis has been searching the area where the cup was found since 1980, traveling there about 25 times.
“That whole area [where] he lives or works is where the 90th Division did a lot of fighting. In fact, General Patton is buried in that area,” Radish said.
Weis was out for a walk with his metal detector in the Ardennes forest Aug. 22, 2020, when he discovered the cup beside a small creek, encrusted with clay and aluminum oxide.
“But as I know by experience … sometimes the owners engraved their name or laundry numbers on such items,” Weis wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes. “I cleaned it carefully with fine steel wool and oil.”
Underneath the decades of grime, there was the name “Radish.”
“I am an historian and knew before my search which units were fighting exactly there and that the chances are rather great to still find WWII items,” Weis said.
Weis headed online to research men named Radish who served during World War II. He searched the National Archives and Records Administration website and an enlistment website. He found 10 men with the name and was quickly able to narrow down which man owned the cup.
“As I knew that the unit fighting at this very spot of discovery was the 357th Infantry Regiment of the 90th Infantry Division, I was almost certain that I found the right man,” Weis said.
And he did.
“As time has been going on, as I get older and my memory ordinarily gets worse and worse, it doesn’t hurt me. But oh boy, I remember being in the area,” Radish said. “I remember the forest in that area. I remember the Germans had shells that would hit trees and explode. The stuff was coming down like rain, the shrapnel.”
Using Facebook, Weis contacted Radish. No one responded, and he decided to try to reach out to Radish’s granddaughter, Rebecca Kruser, who had commented on one of his photos.
“He sent me a bunch of pictures of the cup. He had a lot of detailed information about who he was,” Kruser, 33, said. “I thought maybe it could be some sort of scam, but I googled his name and it seemed like there had been other articles written about him.”
When she told her grandfather, he was also skeptical. He couldn’t remember being in that exact location. As time passed, Radish got more excited.
“I said, ‘Oh really?’ I couldn’t get her down from the sky. She was: ‘How did this happen, Grandpa? Tell me about it!’ I just went back in my mind and said, ‘My goodness.’ That was the only expression I had. It’s amazing,” Radish said.
The coffee cup is “aluminium, it’s crushed,” but he said it was still in pretty good shape. “The handle was metal, so that eroded and disappeared,” Radish said.
He doesn’t remember scratching his name on the cup.
“I remember dropping my mess kit. I remember being in foxholes in that area. I remember being fed at night. [The German people] would come up behind us and we would go back and get out mess kits. And we would get a hot meal at night. We would never carry our mess kits with us because it made noise,” Radish said.
Based on historical research of the area, Weis believes the cup was lost in early January 1945, most likely around the 7th or 8th.
Over the years, he estimates that he has found about 80 objects.
“Mostly small arms, explosive projectiles, ammunition, helmets,” Weis wrote.
He only found one other cup, belonging to Cpl. Joseph Brett of the 26th Infantry Division. Of the objects that he’s found, Radish’s cup is the first item Weis was able to return to a living veteran.
“I think it’s great that the people in the town still remember their service,” said Kruser, who lives in Washington. Weis told her, “Please tell your grandfather thank you for coming to liberate us. We really appreciate it.”
“I think it’s great that this guy in the town is trying to find stuff and keep the history alive for everyone,” she said.
Radish, a reconnaissance sergeant with the 90th Infantry Division, was eventually taken prisoner by the Nazis and held until the British freed him.
Once Radish separated from the Army, he became a shop teacher until he retired. At 96, he still drives and goes to the park once in awhile and goes for walks in the morning.
His thoughts on the surprise of having his cup returned: “If you live long enough, everything happens."
Read more about Harold Radish’s POW experience.
Searching the Luxembourg forest in August 2020, Fernand Weis came across this cup that was left behind by Harold Radish during World War II. In January 2021, Weis mailed the cup to Radish.
COURTESY OF FERNAND WEIS