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September 30. 2012 11:46PM

Missing sword returns to NH Marine after 43 years

TEMPLE — Flooded with political survey and endorsement calls, Nancy Cowan almost ignored the phone last Friday when an out-of-state number popped up on Caller ID. She changed her mind and answered it — and the call changed her life.

“It restored my faith in humanity,” said Cowan.

The call came from Rob McGann of Billerica, Mass., asking for Nancy’s husband James. McGann claimed to have something that belonged to him, an item missing for 43 years, that he was looking to return to its rightful owner, one former Marine to another — Jim’s Marine NCO sword, lost during a move in North Carolina 43 years ago.

“It was completely unexpected,” said Cowan, who operates the New England School of Falconry in Temple, along with her husband, James Cowan III. “It was so long ago — two moves ago — and you don’t think you’ll see something like that again. But it’s funny, I was just thinking about the sword last week, and regretting that it was lost ... and then that call came. We still feel like we’re walking on air.”

Cowan said over four decades ago James’ father gave him the sword, engraved with his full name of ‘James Cowan III,’ and the family dutifully packed it prior to them moving, and James shipping out to Vietnam.

“It was a crazy time,” said Cowan. “My mind was on my husband heading to Vietnam, the move, and we packed it up. When I started unpacking, the sword was missing.”

The family tried several times to track down where it ended up by contacting the moving company, without success.

“We just figured it was gone,” said Cowan. “We didn’t expect to ever see it again.”

Fast forward to eight years ago, and Billerica, Mass., resident Joseph Gordon is headed to his local VFW hall, when he saw a man he assumed was a down-on-his-luck veteran headed inside.

“I saw him carrying this sword,” said Gordon. “We started talking, and he said he was going inside looking to get a loan for it. I asked him what he was looking for, and I ended up giving him $75 for it, because I wanted to help the guy out. I gave him my information, and told him to get in touch with me when he was ready to get it back. I never heard from him again.”

Gordon took the sword home, stored it in a gun safe, and forgot about it until two years ago. He began searching for anyone named James Cowan III in his general area, without success. Recently, he enlisted the help of a former Marine friend of his, Rob McGann.

“His daughter used her computer, and found a New Hampshire family with the right name,” said Gordon. “Rob called them, and they said they lost the sword 40 years ago or something. It’s a crazy story.”

Gordon said he and the Cowans are arranging for a meeting this week, at the Billerica VFW hall, where he will return the sword to its rightful owner.

“They asked if I wanted my $75 back I paid for it,” said Gordon. “I said no. I know it means more to them than it ever did to me, and I just want to see it get back to them. I was trying to help one guy when I bought it, and now I’m going to help them.”

“It’s so amazing to us,” said Cowan. “There are still good people out there.”

pfeely@unionleader.com


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