Stolen Photo Gets Picture-Perfect Ending After 70 Years

Ruby Hazen then (left) and now (right). Photos courtesy of Ruby Hazen.When Ruby Hazen saw a photo of herself from 1943 on the Internet last month, she couldn’t quite believe her eyes. “I was amazed,” the 92-year old, who resides in Silverlake, Washington, tells Yahoo Shine. The picture on OregonLive.com ran with the headline, “Ruby Ruff Where are you?”

The photo had found its way to Oregon via Jim Williams, a 92-year-old U.S. Coast Guard veteran who had pocketed the picture of Hazen (whose maiden name is Ruff) while visiting her parents' home 70 years ago. Williams had been invited to have lemonade at the Huff family's house after a local dance and noticed the photo of the redhead in the living room. Wanting a picture of a pretty girl to pin up and show his fellow servicemen, he slipped the photo out from behind the glass and hid the frame in the couch cushions.

“I originally thought I’d put it in my bunk,” says Williams, but the photo never made it on to his wall. He felt so bad about stealing it (in fact, he says, he’s never stolen anything in the seven decades since), he decided to return it. But his unit was shipped out before he had a chance. “When I couldn’t return it to Ruby, I put it away so I could keep it in pristine condition.”

Jim Williams on duty. Photo courtesy of Jim Williams. During a recent vacation to the West Coast, Williams set in motion a chain of events that eventually got the photo back to its rightful owner. Feeling it might be his last chance to try to return the photo, he told his tale to The Oregonian. The paper, in turn published the news story that Hazen eventually saw, prompting her to call the paper, which forwarded her contact information on to Williams.

Soon after, he sent Hazen the photo in its protective plastic cover, along with a handwritten apology note that detailed how far the portrait had traveled: "This letter accompanies the photo I reluctantly return to you. It has been with me since 1943 and never out of my reach. It has traveled with me from your parents' home in Portland, Oregon, then to Depoe Bay, Oregon; Port Townsend, Washington; St. Augustine, Florida; San Francisco; Honolulu; Pearl Harbor; Canton Island; Funafuti Atoll; the east coast of New Guinea; Manus Island, the Philippines southernmost island of Mindanao to the north island of Luzon, then Springfield, Illinois and into my album where I saw it regularly. The photo has survived torpedo attacks, aircraft strafing, shore battery, firings, 30 consecutive nights of bombing, two wives and a typhoon in the China Sea. It will leave a gaping hole in my album. I shall miss it. Thank you for sharing some of my golden memories. Sincerely, Jim Williams.” 

While Williams and the photo of Hazen traveled the world with the Coast Guard, Hazen herself was also helping with the war effort at home. From 1944 to 1945, she worked for the Vancouver, Washington-based Kaiser Ship Building company that built aircraft carriers for the war. “Every household had someone in the military or working for the war effort,” says Hazen, “I was part of the secretary pool, and I also read blueprints.” She even remembers President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, visiting the  plant on separate occasions. “Eleanor christened one of the ships,” she says.  (Ironically, Williams also visited the plant for a tour in 1943—a year too early to have crossed paths with Hazen.)

Williams “feels good” knowing that the photograph is now back with its rightful owner. As for that empty spot in his photo book? Says Williams, “I have a picture of the front page of The Oregonian with Ruby’s photo that I can put in my album now.”