WWII sailor reunites with friend to return photo stolen 70 years ago

Charlene Sakoda
Odd News
WWII sailor reunites with friend to return photo stolen 70 years ago

92-year-old Jim Williams of Springfield, Illinois lived with 70 years of regret over stealing a photo of a redhead he met while stationed in Depoe Bay, Oregon. On a day off, the then 22-year-old US Coast Guard sailor took a trip to Portland’s Jantzen Beach Amusement Park. He happened to meet 22-year-old Ruby Ruff and shared a dance. There was no romance but the two struck up a friendship and as was the custom in those days, the Ruff family opened their home to the serviceman to make him feel welcome. While enjoying lemonade in Ruby’s home Jim said, "I saw the picture on an end table next to the sofa and that's when I slipped it out of the frame and took it…One of the reasons why I took it was everybody had pictures of girls on their bunks at Depoe Bay, but I didn't have any. So I thought this was a good chance to get one." Instead of opting for a starlet pinup, Jim preferred Ruby’s picture.

Jim had reconsidered his theft and planned on returning the photo to Ruby when he was back in Portland, but just days later he was transferred to St. Augustine, Florida and then off to war. So for the next 3 years Jim carried Ruby’s photo with him across the world in the South and North Pacific Ocean, and the Coral, China, Solomon and Java seas where he worked on a refueling ship and then as a submarine hunter.

After the war, Jim raised a family in Illinois and always remembered Ruby and her picture. During what he thought could be his last road trip to visit his daughter in Los Angeles, Jim detoured through Portland in hopes of returning the photo. The veteran contacted The Oregonian newspaper and they ran a front page story about Jim’s goal of returning the picture he stole. Ruby Ruff’s niece saw the article and told her aunt. Now Ruby Hazen, she has been married 67 years to an airman, lives in Silverlake, Washington, and despite living on Memory Lane, she doesn’t remember meeting Jim 70 years ago.

After connecting, Jim sent Ruby the photo and a written apology which began, "Dear Ruby, this letter accompanies the photo I reluctantly return to you." While the two could not travel to meet in person due to their health and age, KOMO News 4 arranged for a virtual face to face call via Skype. Jim told Ruby, "I regretted taking that picture for 70 years, but right now I'm glad I did it. I get to talk with you, which I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t taken the picture." Ruby accepted Jim’s apology and left with a fond feeling about the veteran, "As the old saying goes, they don't make them like that anymore."

More information:KOMO, Oregonlive.com