Found Lighter Sparks Memories of Dad for Selfridge Airman

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
A lighter that is more than 35 years old recently sparked many happy memories for one Selfridge Airman.

Master Sgt. Terry Atwell, the visual information manager in the 127th Wing Public Affairs office, recently received a surprise gift - the return of an engraved cigarette lighter he had purchased for his late father while the son was serving in the Navy in 1976. The lighter had not been seen since at least 1994, but was recently returned to the younger Atwell, through the kindness of a stranger.

"Somehow, this lighter found the way back to me. It is just amazing to think about it," Atwell said.

Atwell, a native of Lapeer, Mich., first enlisted in the Navy in 1974. Assigned as a nuclear-qualified welder, he was eventually assigned to the crew of the USS Yosemite, a destroyer-tender home-ported in Florida. On Atwell's second cruise with the Yosemite, while in the Mediterranean Sea, he purchased a lighter engraved with the ship's logo and name, along with the year, 1976. On the top of the lighter is the inscription "To H.L. Atwell, from Terry."

Atwell said he purchased the lighter in the ship's store and most likely mailed it to his father, along with some souvenirs for his mother, during a port call in Naples, Italy.

Atwell's father, Harold, apparently lost the lighter -- possibly slipping out of pocket -- at some point while working at the local airport in Lapeer, where Harold Atwell built and flew light aircraft. Harold Atwell died in 1994 and apparently the lighter remained in a field at the airport since at least some time prior to that.

One evening recently, Terry Atwell was relaxing at home - he now lives about two miles from the same airport in Lapeer - when a stranger knocked on the door and handed him the lighter.

"Apparently, he was able to make the connection based on the names on the lighter," the son said. "I am a bit ashamed to admit that I didn't even get the man's name to thank him, I was just so blown away when he handed me the lighter. It took me right back to 1976 and memories of my dad.

"It was almost eerie to get the lighter again. My dad and I were real close and this really brought me some good memories," Atwell said.

Considering the lighter probably laid in a field for almost 20 years, it is in remarkably good condition - and it still lights.

"For someone to find that lighter and then to go out of his way like that to find me and return it to me, that's really something. I'd really like to be able to thank that guy," Atwell said.

After an initial four-year enlistment in the Navy in the 1970s, Atwell enlisted for four more years in the Navy in 1983. Shortly after his discharge from active duty with the Navy, he returned home to Michigan and enlisted in the Michigan Air National Guard. He has served in various capacities at Selfridge Air National Guard Base since 1990.