A few years ago I was at the “DC Big Flea” market in Chantilly, Virginia hunting for bargains.
As I combed the aisles I came across an old worn tan leather piece of luggage with yellow stenciling on both sides, black writing that read: “HENRY M.T. KOLEHMANIEN 579829” and below his name in yellow stenciling was “TIENTSIN CHINA.” On the back of the bag is black Chinese characters and yellow stenciling that read: “USMC ROMULUS, MICH.”
It was crystal clear to me after inspecting the bag that this belonged to a U.S. Marine and that was the luggage that accompanied him on his deployments. I wondered where he served, when he served and how the bag wound up at a flea market in Virginia.
I knew I had to have it. I wanted to preserve it and remember his service. So, I bought it, and it was prominently displayed in my home in Virginia. I vowed to someday get to the bottom of who owned it.
(Bradley A. Blakeman)
Visitors to my home always were drawn to it and asked questions about it that I could not answer.
Recently, I moved from Virginia to Arizona and, of course, the bag came with me. As I was setting up my new home, I again prominently displayed the bag in my living room.
I took pictures of my new home and posted them on Facebook. As I was reading through the comments from my friends and family — one comment drew my total attention and that was from my old high school buddy Casey Hutchinson who asked: “What’s the story with the bag?”
That got me thinking and motivated to finally research who exactly was Henry M.T. Kolehmanien, and can I find him or his family?
I went to work. After hours of research I found that Henry held the rank of master sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in WW II, Korea and Vietnam. He was born on July 28, 1927 and passed away at the age of 89 on September 13, 2016 and was buried with honors at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery in Mims, Florida.
I also was able the locate his grandson William Kolehmanien who also lives in Florida. When I found him I texted him and told him: “You are not going to believe this – I bought your grandfather’s U.S. Marine luggage bag at a flea market a number of years ago.”
I also texted him pictures of the bag. His immediate response was: “Wow. I don’t believe it. Okay, I believe it but wow.”
We thereafter spoke on the phone and I told him I always wondered about the bag and who it belonged to. I also told him I thought the bag should be reunited with Henry’s family and that I wanted to send it to them. William thanked me and said he was going to speak with his family and added: “I’ll admit, I am not sure how to process this chain of events; but thank you.”
Thereafter, the Kolehmaniens talked amongst the family including with William’s dad – Henry’s son – and decided they would welcome the opportunity to have their hero’s bag in the safekeeping of his family.
I also learned that William Kolehmanien leads the efforts to place American flags on the graves of fallen vets every Memorial Day at the Cape Canaveral National Cemetery.
So today I went to the UPS Store near my home and sent Henry’s bag back to his family with a note from me. I wanted them to know how much I appreciate the service of U.S. Marine Henry M.T. Kolehmanien and that I cherished the time I was the steward of his bag. I also wanted them to know how much it meant to me to be able to return it to the Kolehmanien family.
I am blessed to have rescued a piece of American history, return it to the family where it belongs and to honor the memory of an American patriot who served and sacrificed for his county time and time again.
While I never got to meet him in life, I will always remember U.S. Marine Henry M.T. Kolehmanien. RIP.
Bradley A. Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004. A principal of the 1600 Group, a strategic communications firm, he is an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University and a frequent guest on Fox News and Fox Business. Mr. Blakeman is also a registered lobbyist for the Communications Workers of America. Read Bradley Blakeman's Reports — More Here.