From telegrams to POW diary, veteran's vast collection heading to Belgium museum

Julian Victor was a WWI refugee, a WWII veteran, a prisoner of war, a purple heart recipient, and now his story will be on display.

Victor chronicled his life in combat in a remarkable collection that his daughter is sharing with the world.

"Probably the centerpiece of his collection is the Purple Heart," said Maureen Edson.

A Purple Heart for military merit was awarded to Edson's father many years ago. His story, though, is far from forgotten, chronicled in a collection of papers and photographs. It's a collection, it turns out, fit for a museum -- a story just aching to be told.

It's a story that starts when Victor was just 3 years old. His father had gone to Detroit to seek a better life for his family but then, young Julian and his mother were trapped in Belgium during WWI. It was 1915 and a Detroit priest, Father Henry Syoen, would come to their rescue.

"Father Syoen walked from town to town along the Belgian front line looking for children until his feet were blistered. He was able to gather 116 people, most of them children and a few women, to accompany him on the way back to America," Edson said.

Victor was one of them, a refugee. He would grow up in Detroit, get married to his wife, Margaret, and join the U.S. Army to fight in WWII, sent to France and Belgium to help liberate his birth country. Then it got complicated.

"He is wounded and captured by the Germans and marched all the way across Germany into Austria," Edson said. "His wound was a foot wound, so it must have been a very difficult march."

Two toes have been shot off, and Victor is a prisoner of war at Stalag 17-B, but nobody back home knows where he is.

"These are the Western Union telegrams - the original telegrams," Edson said.

Maureen's father kept it all -- the telegrams, the letters from the secretary of war, his dog tags, a fork and spoon from prison, his rosary, and a Nazi pin. There are Julian Victor's own letters in his own handwriting -- his diary as a prisoner of war.

"'Marched all day. Noon we got soup with meat - 27 men to a loaf of bread. Marched 17 kilometers, slept in a barn,'" Edson read from the journal.

From the painful march to the meals in prison -- liver sandwiches with bread and butter and liver paste. The diary is full of drawings and dreams for a better day.

"'The beds are covered with fleas and lice and I almost forgot the bedbugs,'" Edson read.

It's all part of a vast collection that is now on its way to Belgium. Maureen is donating everything from her father's purple heart to his uniform to a new museum in his home country.

"It's all in very good condition. I think they're going to be very pleased when they see it," she said.

For Maureen, it's a deeper look at a father whose life in the Army she never really knew.

"He passed away when I was 26 years old, so I really didn't get a chance to understand what he had gone through," she said. "I wish I could talk to him now. I wish he was still here to answer questions."

What's been in storage for so long now will be on display -- a centerpiece at a new museum. Maureen says she feels like her father is finally going home.

"The fact that he was born in Belgium, was a WWI refugee, came to America, and then came back to liberate his homeland," she said. "I'm excited to tell the story. I'm excited to bring it there and to have a home for it."

Speaking of home, Julian wrote about that, too, when he was a prisoner of war. He writes about hearing artillery fire getting closer and closer.

"'The U.S. Army's coming for us, and then happy days are coming' -- this is dated Friday, May 4, 1945," Edmon said, reading from the journal.

Then, in another telegram to his wife sent via Western Union, he gives a message Margaret had been waiting months to hear.

"'I've arrived safely, expect to see you soon ... Love, Julian,'" Edmon read. "So she finally found out that he's coming back."