Saturday, January 24, 2015

Store owner reunites 1945 recording of young sailor with descendants - By Elizabeth Richards

Michael Esposito Sr. didn’t intend to cause a flurry of publicity when he sought out the Austin family on Facebook. He simply wanted to return a recording, made by a young man who had joined the Navy in 1945, to its rightful owners. But when he used the far-reaching capabilities of Facebook to find the family, the attention he garnered reached as far as the national media outlet USA Today.
Esposito, co-owner of the Windham Radio Shack, which has an extensive record department, purchased a collection of albums close to 15 years ago. As he flipped through that collection, he came across a unique item. Inside a mailing envelope addressed to Mr. & Mrs. William D. Austin at their home in Auburn was a recording made by their son, William Austin, who was at basic training in Texas. 

Esposito knew then that he wanted to get the record back where it belonged. He began cold calling people with the last name Austin in the Auburn area. Everyone he contacted listened to his story, but none had the connection he hoped for. Over the years, he occasionally tried. Hitting dead ends each time, he gave up in frustration. At the time, he had no idea if the young man had even made it back from World War II. If he hadn’t, Esposito realized, there might not be any family to find. 

In 2014, Esposito lost his father. Feeling nostalgic, something made him decide it was time to revisit the search. With his strong orientation towards family, he felt like he needed to get the recording back to the descendents of Austin somehow. “If it were mine, I’d want it back,” he said. 

This time, rather than calling, he spread the word on Facebook. On Saturday, January 3rd, he wrote a post asking – almost begging, he said – people to help him get the job done. “I hope this post will be shared by all of you so that this record will be reunited with his family,” he wrote. “I am determined to find this family and hopefully his children or grandchildren may hear his voice again! How cool would that be!”
And it was. By the next afternoon Esposito had in his hands an address and phone number for Barry Austin, Austin’s son. But before he could call the number, his phone rang. On the other end was Dorna Davis, Austin’s daughter. “I was a minute away from calling her brother’s number when she called me,” Esposito said. They arranged to meet at the store on Monday evening, so that she could hear the recording and take it home. 

Esposito posted a follow up message on Facebook, sharing the good news. And that’s when the media attention really began. By the end of that day, he’d received calls from several local news stations asking if they could be there for the exchange the following evening. 

At first Esposito, who said he didn’t want all this publicity, told them no. At his wife’s urging, he consulted with Davis and also with Dorothy Austin, Austin’s wife, to see how they felt about it. “I didn’t want them to feel ambushed by me,” said Esposito. “I just wanted to give it to them.” The family gave the go ahead, and so on Monday, January 5th when six members of Austin’s family came together with five members of Esposito’s family to make the exchange, the cameras were rolling.

It was an emotional event, Esposito said. He had set up an antique record player and they played the recording together. Through scratches and pops, the family heard William’s voice as a young man, sharing bits of news with his family, and letting them know he missed them. “It was amazing. It really didn’t sound like him – he was only 19,” said Davis. “It was just nice to hear what he had to say, and that he was missing his family.” Hearing the recording was also special to her son, Davis said, who had never before heard his grandfather’s voice. 

Her family had no idea the recording even existed, Davis said. What she assumes happened is that his parents received the recording, listened to it, and tucked it away for safekeeping. When they died, it was sold in a batch of records and ended up with Esposito. 

The publicity the story has generated came as a shock to Esposito. “I thought I’d contact somebody, they’d come in and I’d give them the record. I had no idea,” he said. By the end of last week, the story had run in USA Today, and was reaching news outlets across the country.

Davis said the publicity hasn’t really affected the family. “It’s quite fun,” she said. But the best part is having the recording. “We had no idea it existed, but it’s nice to have,” she said. The family hopes to find somewhere that can convert the record to a CD and take the scratchiness out for better sound quality. Then, she said, they’d like to take it to Austin’s brother, who is living in an assisted living facility, so he can hear his brother’s voice again.

Esposito said he feels like his extended family has been expanded. “You make family with not just blood relatives sometimes. These kinds of things push you into that relationship. We’ll keep in touch with each other forever.”Bottom of Form

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