HAYDEN, Idaho (AP) — Except for meeting him as a young boy, Jim Johandes knew nothing about his late father.
But that gap of 60 years was closed Sept. 17.
Johandes was presented with World War II memorabilia of his biological father, Jack Van Horn, from the Pappy Boyington Field Museum. The items included Van Horn's diary from serving on the USS Idaho battleship, a photo of him with fellow sailors, flash cards identifying Navy and enemy ships and newspaper clippings.
"When you have nothing, this is like finding the Holy Grail,"Johandes said while being presented the memorabilia. "I'm dumbfounded. This gives me something to hang onto. I had nothing."
Johandes, who made the trip to North Idaho from Arroyo Grande, Calif., with his wife, Karen, to receive the items and visit relatives in Post Falls, said his father's ashes were spread at sea, so there's not even a gravesite of Van Horn's to visit.
It took a series of events for the memorabilia to end up in Johandes' hands.
The Press last April published a history column on the USS Idaho by Syd Albright of the Kootenai County Historic Preservation Commission.
Meanwhile, Salvatore Montegino, who lives near Tucson, Ariz., and an acquaintance of Van Horn's, had been given Van Horn's memorabilia and stuck the items in a closet for 40 years.
When Montegino sifted through the long-forgotten shoebox, he became curious about the USS Idaho and had his son research the ship. The Press column came up during the Internet search and, as a result, Montegino contacted Albright, thinking the Pappy Boyington military museum would be a great place to showcase the items.
After the memorabilia arrived at the museum, museum consultant Dale Childers sent an email to a website on the USS Idaho.
The email resulted in a return phone call from Johandes, who had been seeking information on his father.
"How random is all of that?" Johandes said. "When they asked me what connection I had with Jack Van Horn, I told them that he is my father."
In return for obtaining his father's items, Johandes donated two World War II rifles to the museum that had been given to him from an acquaintance. He's also looking into securing a Korean War jeep donation for the museum.
Albright said how the memorabilia surfaced and ultimately was given to Van Horn's son is an example of how history can be fun and rewarding.
"I think that it's wonderful, after all these years, to have this reunion," he said.
Johandes said it wasn't until 1997 — 13 years after his father died — that he learned from his mother that Van Horn was his biological dad.
"I was raised by Bill Johandes and I always thought that he was my biological father until they both passed, then my mother, because of my interest in genealogy, thought I'd discover something one day, so she tearfully told me at lunch," Johandes said.