The Return of Lou Cinfici's 1946 Benrus Watch - 3
Lou Cinfici will be the first one to say he's had a wonderful life. Some might even say surviving combat in the South Pacific late in World War II and injuries in the Korean and Vietnam wars might qualify as a charmed life. And just when he thought he had seen it all, Cinfici, 90, of the Heritage at Green Hills got a call saying that a watch with his name and Navy identification number inscribed on it had been found.
Cinfici, a Reading native, said the watch was a gift from a woman he was dating in 1946. In 1965, he had left a suitcase containing his service and medical records in the woman's apartment, and the flat was burglarized. His paperwork was later found under a bridge in Reading, but the watch was gone. Cinfici got medical training in the Navy and served as a dental assistant in World War II and Korea. He got further training as a medic and was attached to the Marine Corps in Da Nang, Vietnam. He said that for 50 years he rarely thought about the long-lost watch.
How it happened
Then Bob Stokes of Carpinteria, Calif., called the front desk of the Heritage at Green Hills, where the Cinficis now live.“It was this guy, Bob Stokes, calling from California saying he'd found the watch I had lost 50 years ago,” Cinfici said. “I've got to say, at first I thought it was some kind of scam.” Stokes said it was no scam. It's part of his hobby.
The seller, Rochelle Klimov of northeast Philadelphia, said her husband, Victor, also is a collector and bought Cinfici's watch at a flea market in Lambertville, N.J. She said they agreed to sell the watch to Stokes at a discount because Stokes said he likely could find Cinfici and that Cinfici was a combat veteran of three wars.
Stokes said he has scanned through thousands of vintage watches. “There might be thousands and thousands of them, and only one has an inscription on it,” Stokes said. “Often it's an accident of fate: a person's entire history etched in a few lines of inscription.” Stokes said many times he finds multiple veterans with the same name. “But there's only one Lou Cinfici on the internet,” Stokes said. “And from what I've learned about him, he is one of a kind.”
Cinfici said Stokes is his hero for putting in the time and effort to reunite him with his long-lost watch. Stokes also cleaned up the watch and replaced the worn leather band with a new one. Stokes said he has about 40 watches that once belonged to World War II veterans and other service members. He said it was refreshing to learn Cinfici wanted his old watch back.
“You call some people and they act like you're trying to return their grandfather's broken toaster,” Stokes said. “I wear a different watch every day to remember and honor them.”
Stokes never served in the military. He was a retired IT consultant and schoolteacher, and lived across the Delaware River in Haddonfield, N.J., for 35 years before moving to California to be near his family.
“He is absolutely amazing,” Cinfici said. “This watch has been missing since 1965. Surprisingly, it's keeping pretty good time. I wore the watch all the time.” But the watch is pretty dinged up. “I'm going to take it to a jeweler and really get it fixed up,” he said. “I still can't believe I got my watch back.”