By BOB HUDSON
A former Moreland man has become a national celebrity in Okinawa because of the simple gesture of returning an enemy soldier's wallet.
Durl Gibbs came into possession of the wallet during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. He returned it to the soldier's daughter earlier this year.
"I got the wallet just before we dug in for the night," Gibbs recalled. He had become his unit's radioman two or three days earlier. "Because I had the radio, I had to be right beside the platoon sergeant."
He and Sgt. Frank Dowell dug their foxhole on the edge of a rice paddy.
"We could hear Japanese soldiers moving around," Gibbs recalled. "One Japanese soldier was creeping toward our hole.
"We happened to see him, but didn't want to fire our M-1s because the muzzle flash would give our position away. So it turned out to be a hand-to-hand deal, up close and personal.
"That soldier died on the edge of our foxhole," Gibbs said. "At dawn I could see he had a pistol and I wanted it for a souvenir. As I reached for it, I saw a wallet in a case and tossed it into my pack."
Gibbs said the wallet contained several family photographs as well as a sealed brown envelope. He, his wife and children examined the pictures several times over the years. When he opened the envelope about 10 years ago Gibbs found some of the soldier's hair and some fingernail clippings. They were a piece of the soldier who could be returned home, Gibbs explained.
Last year, his son Wes encouraged Gibbs to take a trip to Okinawa. Gibbs hadn't been there since the end of World War II.
Wes' employer had plentiful air miles credit and offered them to him.
"Why don't you go?" Wes asked. "It's a good chance to take the wallet and turn it over to an organization or a museum." Wes found an organization on the Internet and made the necessary arrangements.
When they got to Okinawa, television and newspaper reporters were waiting for them.
The day the newspaper stories appeared with pictures of the contents of that wallet, a woman called and said of one of the photographs inside, "that was my dad."
The wallet belonged to a Sgt. Keijiro Hojo and contained what must have been pictures of his friends, including the woman's father.
Gibbs was unable to return the picture to her at that time. He made plans to return and do so, but those plans were interrupted by the tsunami and earthquake in March.
Eventually, though, Gibbs and the woman, Shinobu Chinen, got together.
"When she got that picture, she told me, ' this is just like bringing my dad. His spirit can be here now,'" Gibbs recalled.
He was able to return the wallet to Hojo's daughter, Noriko Kikuchi a couple of months ago.
Gibbs said the entire affair has changed him.
"This whole thing has been like if I'd throw a pebble in the pool," he said, alluding to the number of people who helped make the return of the wallet possible.
"That wallet looked so cared for," he said. "I think the Lord had something to do with this."
Gibbs was born in American Falls but was raised in Moreland. He graduated from Moreland High School in 1944, then joined the U.S. Army. He entered at Fort Douglas, Utah, then to Camp Hood, Texas, and Fort Lewis, Wash., and on to Hawaii. He received jungle training in Hawaii before heading to Okinawa with I Company, 3rd Battalion, 381st Infantry Regiment.
After leaving the Army he returned to Idaho. He married Lucille Hoffer in 1949. They raised Lee, Wes and Clara Jean.
He said he knows little about Kikuchi, who was three years old when her father died.
"I would love to go back and find out about her life," he said.