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Former GI Manuel Rodriguez, left, and retired Sgt. Maj. Earl Hart, right, bring a flag back to Kofferen, Germany, where they present it to Peter Bongartz, center, a former German soldier who lives in the village.
Former GI Manuel Rodriguez, left, and retired Sgt. Maj. Earl Hart, right, bring a flag back to Kofferen, Germany, where they present it to Peter Bongartz, center, a former German soldier who lives in the village. (Ray Conway / S&S)

KOFFEREN, Germany — This hamlet tucked in the farmland north of Aachen got back a piece of its heritage Sunday thanks to a retired U.S. Army sergeant major who kept his father’s World War II memorabilia.

Earl Hart, a former Special Forces soldier who retired in Italy, returned a flag that his father took from the village in 1945. His father, also named Earl, was an Army master sergeant with the 40th Infantry Regiment when it passed through Kofferen.

Bringing the flag back gave Hart a sense of history, he said.

“It’s brought me closer to the men on both sides,” Hart said. “People are people, Americans and Germans together after nearly 60 years.”

His father found the flag, which belonged to the local war veterans club, in a restaurant. The elder Hart brought it home, where it wound up in a trunk full of war mementos. When his father passed away in 1979, Earl Hart inherited his father’s belongings.

On one side of the flag, blood-red lettering across a golden tapestry spells out “With God, for King and Country,” written in fancy German script. A woman, known as Germania, holds a sword and shield, a design meticulously stitched by hand.

The opposite side is a crimson banner with gold letters identifying the veterans club of “Cofferen.” When the flag was sewn in 1876, the town was spelled with a “C.”

Hart eventually tapped into a Web site supported by Manuel Rodriguez, a former GI who lives in Kofferen. Hart and Rodriguez established that the flag belonged to the town and organized its return.

Wolfgang Witkopp, the mayor of nearby Linnich, could not believe Hart worked so hard to find such a small town, he said.

“He gave Kofferen a part of its history back,” Witkopp said. “It’s a sign that people who were once in battle are together again.”

Before Sunday’s ceremony, Hart showed the flag to Peter Bongartz, who served in the German army during WWII. Bongartz recalled his uncle telling him that the flag was missing. When Hart brought it back, Bongartz kissed the flag and wept, Rodriguez said.

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