HAYDEN, Idaho — Except for meeting him as a young boy, Jim Johandes knew nothing about his late father.
But that gap of 60 years was closed Sept. 17.
Johandes was presented with World War II memorabilia of his biological father, Jack Van Horn, from the Pappy Boyington Field Museum. The items included Van Horn's diary from serving on the USS Idaho battleship, a photo of him with fellow sailors, flash cards identifying Navy and enemy ships and newspaper clippings.
"When you have nothing, this is like finding the Holy Grail,"Johandes said while being presented the memorabilia. "I'm dumbfounded. This gives me something to hang onto. I had nothing."
Johandes, who made the trip to North Idaho from Arroyo Grande, Calif., with his wife, Karen, to receive the items and visit relatives in Post Falls, said his father's ashes were spread at sea, so there's not even a gravesite of Van Horn's to visit.
It took a series of events for the memorabilia to end up in Johandes' hands.
The Press last April published a history column on the USS Idaho by Syd Albright of the Kootenai County Historic Preservation Commission.
Meanwhile, Salvatore Montegino, who lives near Tucson, Ariz., and an acquaintance of Van Horn's, had been given Van Horn's memorabilia and stuck the items in a closet for 40 years.
When Montegino sifted through the long-forgotten shoebox, he became curious about the USS Idaho and had his son research the ship. The Press column came up during the Internet search and, as a result, Montegino contacted Albright, thinking the Pappy Boyington military museum would be a great place to showcase the items.
After the memorabilia arrived at the museum, museum consultant Dale Childers sent an email to a website on the USS Idaho.
The email resulted in a return phone call from Johandes, who had been seeking information on his father.
"How random is all of that?" Johandes said. "When they asked me what connection I had with Jack Van Horn, I told them that he is my father."
In return for obtaining his father's items, Johandes donated two World War II rifles to the museum that had been given to him from an acquaintance. He's also looking into securing a Korean War jeep donation for the museum.
Albright said how the memorabilia surfaced and ultimately was given to Van Horn's son is an example of how history can be fun and rewarding.
"I think that it's wonderful, after all these years, to have this reunion," he said.
Johandes said it wasn't until 1997 — 13 years after his father died — that he learned from his mother that Van Horn was his biological dad.
"I was raised by Bill Johandes and I always thought that he was my biological father until they both passed, then my mother, because of my interest in genealogy, thought I'd discover something one day, so she tearfully told me at lunch," Johandes said.
DNA tests through Ancestry.com later confirmed that Johandes is Van Horn's son.
Johandes said it's a bit of a mystery if Van Horn ever knew he even had a son.
"Sal said that Jack told him that he didn't have anyone else to give the box to, making me wonder if he even knew he had a son," Johandes said. "But I'd like to think he knew I was his son and he kept it quiet for honest reasons and out of respect for Bill."
Johandes said he only remembers his dad from when he was a small boy and as a "kindly neighbor."
"He was my neighbor for three years and, in those days, you'd go back and forth between your neighbors," Johandes said. "He had a picture in his hallway of the USS Idaho and I remember him saying, 'Can you find me in the crew?', and I'd try to guess."
In the military photo Johandes was given, he spotted his father despite no names with the picture.
"This is the only photo that I have of him," Johandes said softly.
Van Horn's diary aboard the ship covers from July 16, 1943, to July 31, 1945. The entries included the battles of Iwo Jima, Ulithi and Okinawa. It also includes how Van Horn survived a kamikaze attack.
"We got it today," Van Horn wrote on April 12, 1945. "Terrific suicide attack by God knows how many Jap planes - 55 were shot down in our immediate area. We got five in 4 minutes and received a suicide plane in our port blister. The pieces of the plane covered the entire platform."
Johandes said that, while some questions about his past still remain, the memorabilia goes a long way toward clearing up a mystery.
"Whenever I'd look into Jack Van Horn, I'd hit a brick wall until this happened," Johandes said. "It had all gotten lost in the fog of time."
Information from: Coeur d'Alene Press, http://www.cdapress.com