On the Record

Treasure hunter seeks owner of WWII medal

Andy Reiss
Andy Reiss

Andy Reiss is on a quest of sorts.

Reiss, who grew up in Somonauk and now works in the maintenance department at Northern Illinois University, is trying to find the owner of an Army medal he found.

Last summer, Reiss found an old U.S. Army service medal on his sister’s front lawn in Sandwich. The medal reads: “Freedom from Fear and Want, Freedom of Speech and Religion, 1941-45.” Reiss is hoping to find the rightful owner and return it to them.

“I figured with (modern) technology, it would be pretty easy to find the owner, but no luck,” he said. “I just know it’s a service medal and anyone who served, got one.”

He is asking anyone who may know anything about the medal to contact him through MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson at doleson@shawmedia.com.

Besides coins, Reiss has unearthed an 1899 dog tag, old toys and a Civil War-era sword and ring. Although he mostly works locally, he was invited to participate in a special hunt on an old infantry camp in Coal Pepper, Va., last Thanksgiving.

Depending on the weather, the season unofficially runs from March 1 to Dec. 1.

“I have created my own season,” Reiss said, adding that he’s “going bonkers” waiting to go out again.

Reiss talked about his quest and his hobby with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson.

MidWeek: How long have you been doing this?

Andy Reiss: It’ll be four years this spring. I got interested before all the reality shows.

MW: How did you get started?

AR: I saw it on a movie and I thought I’d like to try it. I found an old quarter in my dad’s backyard. It was a 1964 silver, but it was still a thrill. I’ve been real successful going to houses.

MW: Do you need a license or anything for this?

AR: In Rockford, you need a permit. It’s pretty cheap. It costs $10 and covers all the parks. I hope they don’t do that here.

MW: What kind of equipment do you use?

AR: I started out with an ACE-250. Now I use a Garrett At Pro by Mindelab.

MW: How long do you search at a time?

AR: If things are going well, I’ll continue for the whole day. If it’s going slow, I’ll try another property. A counterpart of mine from Ohio told me that most front lawns have never been touched. I don’t know where he got that.

What I like to do is drive around in the winter time (looking for places), even people I don’t know. I’ll see an old Victorian house and I just stop. There are a lot between Sycamore and Genoa that I have my eye on.

MW: If you find a place you like, what do you do?

AR: I’ll knock on doors, telling people what I’m up to. Nine out of 10 people are very open. I’m very careful when I dig. I always respectfully fill the holes. I’ve found a lot of success south of (Interstate) 80. There aren’t a lot of metal detectors down there. I don’t know why that is. I may see a detector once a month.

MW: If you find anything of value, do you keep it?

AR: It all depends on the owner. Some don’t care. One old lady sat on her porch swing and told me to “keep whatever you find.” A lot of people want the gold. I don’t have a problem with that.

MW: Do you find much gold?

AR: Very little.

MW: What do you find?

AR: I found an 1899 DeKalb, Ill. dog tag. I didn’t even know they had dog tags back then. ...I also found an 1851 large cent with a hole in it. They put it around their neck and wore it for good luck. You get some very interesting history lessons.

My brother bought a house in Morris and I pulled out a swastika. A lot of people don’t know this, but before the Nazis got it, it was a good luck symbol.

I found a pewter serpent ring, between 1750 and 1790. I don’t know what it’s worth. I’ve looked everywhere, but I can’t find it. I don’t know if anyone around here knows something about it.

MW: Do you sell your stuff?

AR: Right now, I want to keep everything.

MW: Do you just search around here?

AR: Last Thanksgiving, I was invited to Coal Pepper, Va. There were about 80 of us. It was for three days at an old infantry camp. Most of them were from the east. I was the farthest one away. I was kind of at a disadvantage. I did pit digging. I dug and dug. I probably dug 4 to 6 feet deep and 6 feet across.

MW: Did the others give you any advice?

AR: They told me to swing low and slower. Don’t be in a hurry. I found a Civil War sword, but I bent it in half. Just the look of it was neat.

MW: How do you know when you’ve found something good?

AR: I am really careful. I use a lot of water to get the dirt off. Some use tooth brushes.

MW: What’s the most valuable coin you’ve found so far?

AR: An 1876 Indian head penny. It’s not the oldest, but it is the most valuable. I found it in a cornfield near here.

MW: Anyone else in your family interested in metal detecting?

AR: My son got into it a little bit near the end of last year.

MW: Any last thoughts on metal detecting?

AR: The most important thing is it gets people out of the house .... it’s sad, but people are watching too much TV.

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