CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Their rented house of five years was suddenly foreclosed upon. Meghan Burns, her three children and her boyfriend, Jeremy Teitler, were in a rush to move to a smaller apartment.
Teitler made a final check around the attic.
In the corner was an unfamiliar suitcase full of dated photo albums. A framed display of military medals and uniform pins from the Vietnam War rested on a basket nearby, covered with a cloth. A U.S. flag that would once have adorned a soldier’s coffin was folded among the objects.
The couple’s curious discovery started them on a quest that would lead to a glimpse into history, a connection with a slain soldier and even congressional recognition.
Frantic and uncertain of the significance of their find, Burns and Teitler packed the memorabilia into their trunk and left their old home behind.
Upon further inspection, they realized they had found a family’s relics of their beloved soldier, Geoffrey Saunders. Letters from a chaplain, a former secretary of state and a platoon leader revealed he was killed in combat in 1968 in Vietnam. He was 19.
“This was someone’s son, their brother,” Burns said. “It needed to go home.”
For months the couple tried to track down Saunders’ family. Eventually, they reached out to a local online newsletter, to get the word out.
Eventually, they found Saunders’ sister, Darlene Stosik, 68, of Pembroke Pines.
Stosik wasn’t easy to find. She hadn’t seen the story, but her third cousin, Kathleen Stock, discovered it while researching a family tree.
Stosik didn’t even know that Stock existed until she called her about the newsletter.
“It’s pretty mind-boggling,” Stosik said. “I was so happy that this family took it upon themselves to make sure that they got this to me.”
It would have been easier for them to just dispose of the items during the move.
“This is history,” she said. “This is a family’s history.”
The couple met Stosik at a Starbucks to return the items.
“When I saw the flag [from his coffin], I broke down in tears,” Stosik said. She explained to the couple that she had been very close with her brother, and was only 21 when he died.
“When I had heard about his death, I didn’t want to believe it and I thought maybe they found some other guy’s body,” she said. “It was very traumatic for me. Bringing this up was kind of reliving it.”
This week, Stosik stood with Burns and Teitler as they were honored by U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of West Boca at a town-hall meeting. He presented them with congressional certificates for their effort to locate Stosik.
Stosik later said her brother was a serious young man. A dual citizen of the United States and Jamaica, he volunteered for the war. “I couldn’t persuade him not to go,” she said. “I tried really hard — I was much more of a hippie, a flower child, than he was.”
The siblings shared a love of the Beatles. Often, they found themselves singing the same songs at the same time without realizing it, she said.
How the relics ended up in Coral Springs is a mystery. Stosik’s mother had the items, but never lived in the city.
“I didn’t think there were any other photos or anything out there, so this is just amazing,” she said. “It’s almost miraculous that it turned out the way it did.”