More than three decades ago, a 21-year-old soldier pawned a stack of savings bonds, figuring he would rather have cash right away than thirty-five years later when his bonds matured.
Now, that soldier, Woodrow Wilson Jr., 58, is living on the streets of Chicago. Even recently, Wilson had been sleeping outdoors in the arctic weather as all the shelters were overflowing due to demand during the frigid weather conditions.
So Wilson wasn’t expecting it when a reporter walked up to him and asked if he’d like $3,000.
It turns out, Wilson had gone to the right pawnshop back in 1981.
The Jack & Dick’s Pawn Shop in Junction City, Kansas, where Wilson had been stationed in 1981, is now owned by Chris Mathis who inherited it as a family business. Mathis was looking through his grandfather’s old desk drawer when he found an envelope containing a fat stack of U.S. savings bonds, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
“I did some research and found that they were all fully matured. I thought that all the old veterans from Fort Riley that pawned them all those years ago would be interested to know that they had been found and could now be cashed in,” Mathis told InsideEdition.com.
“Some were as easy as typing a name into an internet telephone directory and making a phone call, others were much tougher.”
Wilson proved to be one of the tougher cases. Mathis had to hire a private investigator to track down the down-and-out vet now living on the streets of Chicago. And sadly, that was all the investigator could offer – he couldn’t find the man.
Chris Mathis wasn’t about to give up. He started posting ads in the Chicago Sun-Times, asking for help locating the former soldier.
Eventually, his efforts paid off. Readers began writing the paper, saying they knew this mystery veteran who no one could find.
A reporter who saw the ads assembled all the reports and helped to finally track down the elusive Wilson, the Sun-Times reported.
She asked him if he remembered pawning a stack of savings bonds. “Yes! I remember the pawn shop!” Wilson said.
“You could use $3,000, right?” the reporter asked Wilson.
“Yeah! Yeah!” he replied—but until he actually spoke to Chris Mathis on the phone, he feared it might be a hoax.
“I thought this was some kind of scam,” Woodrow told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Why would this guy want to help me? This is huge for me. I’m extremely grateful.”
“She told me about it but I thought she was trying to trick me,” Wilson told Mathis about how skeptical he had been, according to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal.
Wilson said the cash should be enough to get him off the street for the rest of the winter.
“He could have kept it himself and cashed it in. I’m surprised he’s going to give it back to me,” Wilson told WGN, referring to Mathis. “It means a lot because I don’t have nothing. It really helps me.”
Mathis has already returned matured bonds to some 50 veterans, and is working on tracking down 72 more.
“Pawn shop owners aren’t generally known for being sentimental people,” Mathis told the Sun-Times. “I’ve had a few people ask me ‘Are you crazy?’ But a homeless veteran will be sleeping in a warm bed tonight. I know I did the right thing.”