CODY, Wyo. (AP) — U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Cody resident Bill Buntyn knew he had something special when he purchased an old German banner in 1983 at a military surplus auction in Ohio.
Last month, he had the chance to see just how special.
Buntyn, the former commander of the Cody VFW, traveled to the town of Insheim, Germany in October to personally deliver the banner to the town where it had once hung more than 100 years ago.
The banner once belonged to a worker's party from the area, the Insheim Workers Education Union, and was taken down due to fear of reprisals after World War I around the time of the rise of Adolph Hitler's National Socialists. Exact dates of when the banner, and the party itself, ceased to exist are still buried in history.
Insheim Mayor Martin Baumstark relayed much of the history during an event attended by around 300 residents to welcome the return of the banner and thank Buntyn for the gift.
Buntyn said it was as warm a welcome as he could have imagined.
In the leaders of Insheim, he found people who appreciated history as much as himself, even if the banner hung for a relatively brief period of the town's 1,235-year history.
"It's important to remember our history," he said. "All of it - good and bad."
Buntyn said he could have sold it to a collector in the U.S. for a tidy sum, but he had no doubts about wanting to return it to its rightful owners.
"When I purchased it I knew it'd be sacred to Germany," he told the Cody Enterprise . "I was offered a lot of money by collectors, but I turned them all down."
It was one of many military items he's collected over the years as a lover of history, and as someone committed to preserving it.
The actual trip was the conclusion of a long process undertaken by Buntyn because, he said, of his desire to not let history be forgotten.
Buntyn initially reached out to the communities of Insheim and Herxheim in 1985, at which point a notice was published in the weekly newspaper asking residents to be on the lookout for any information on where the banner had come from.
Nothing came from that, and life moved on in the small German towns and for Buntyn.
Recently Buntyn decided to jump back into the work of identifying the origins of the banner with the help of Bill Thielemann and Petra Hales. Their knowledge of German enabled Buntyn to learn more about the banner.
Buntyn then contacted a member of one of Insheim's historic boards to tell him he'd be delivering the banner during the summer.
Having been diagnosed with cancer, Buntyn said he wanted to make sure he did this while he was still able. After returning, he said while it wasn't always easy, he was glad he went. The residents of Insheim made sure he knew that they were glad as well.
"Ladies and gentleman, for us in Insheim the flag means history and remembrance," said Baumstark, via a translator, to the assembled crowd. "I am convinced with this flag an additional connecting link has been created between our American friends and Insheim."
Buntyn said Baumstark had talked about traveling to the United States soon and visiting Cody in particular.
It's a bond formed over a flag more than 100 years old, which is once again in the care of a small German town with a long history - a history Buntyn is now a part of.
The banner will now be displayed prominently along with other pieces of the town's history.
"I am sure this flag will find an exceptional place in the small historic town hall in Insheim," said attendee Heidi Braun, mayor of nearby town Herxheim.
Information from: The Cody Enterprise, http://www.codyenterprise.com