It's been nearly seven decades since Germany surrendered to the Western allies and the Soviet Union in World War II. Even as the war with Japan raged on, many troops began to return to the United States and Americans of all ages were eager to welcome them home, including an ambitious 9-year-old boy.
As a young boy growing up in Kentucky, what Bob Kelly remembers most are the trains.
"Oh yeah, there was a very big train station there," he said.
Kelly was 9 when Nazi Germany fell and, when soldiers began returning to the states, he was drawn to the train station.
"It was an incredible time in my life, I still have vivid memories," he said.
When the troop trains pulled into the station, young Kelly would become a "runner," fetching sandwiches and soft drinks for the men.
"As we gave it to them, they would of course, you know, throw us out some of these patches and coins and all these things," he said.
Kelly still has a pile of the foreign coins he was given, but what he's really proud of are all the uniform patches troops gave him. Now, all these years later, he can still see some of their faces, but wonders who the men were who once wore the patches on their uniforms.
"It belonged to somebody - a marine, some soldier, Air Force," he said.
He wonders if they were worn into battle and, if so, which battles.
"Thinking back into history and where these things have been, and who wore them and why," Kelly said.
The only thing he said he knows for sure about that time is that everyone he came into contact with was relieved to be back on American soil.
"They were loose, they felt good, they were relaxed and you didn't see the tension on their faces, like where they'd been and what they saw. They were just glad to get out of there and go back home," Kelly said.
Ironically, Kelly's memories are just as vivid of the men who were a long way from home - German soldiers being transported in prisoner of war trains.
"They scared me. When I saw those coming in, bars on the windows and the MPs (military police) standing there with rifles on their shoulders, I didn't go near those," he said.
It's not something he's proud of and he rarely shows it to anyone but, when KCTV5's Brad Stephens and his photographer visited, Kelly unfurled an 8' Nazi banner that was thrown from one of the returning troop trains and into the arms of his 9-year-old self.
"It's just frightening to look back on that and think, 'My God, this was something that brought terror to the people Hitler had invaded, like Poland or other European countries,'"
As for the Nazi banner, Kelly doesn't have it anymore. He contacted a memorabilia dealer who will auction it off.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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