AMESBURY — Michelle Sanchez was checking her email just before Easter when the grandfather she never met suddenly entered her life.
Tracked down on Ancestry.com by "a distant cousin of mine who I had never heard of before," Sanchez was told a South Carolina war memorabilia enthusiast, Charles "CJ" Kirkland, recently purchased the uniform of her grandfather, Army Pfc. Stanley F. Kawa, through eBay.
Kawa, born in Springfield in 1919, was a member of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment and one of the first troops to land in the Netherlands as part of Operation Market Garden when Allied Forces liberated the Dutch cities of Eindhoven and Nijmegen in September 1944.
Kirkland told Sanchez he found her family by checking the uniform's laundry tag and wanted to know if her family would like to have it.
"My initial reaction was, 'Of course,' but I wanted to check with my mom first," Sanchez said.
Kawa, a Purple Heart recipient, died of natural causes in July 1950 and his daughter Marsha Salamon — Sanchez's mother — was born that October. Since Salamon had never met her father, her daughter wanted to approach the topic carefully.
"My whole family was there on Easter and so we all sat down and asked her if she wanted the uniform," Sanchez said. "She said, 'You're kidding.'"
Ready to take possession of a piece of the past, Sanchez was put in touch with New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars Quartermaster Greg Lynch, who delivered the pristine dress uniform to her Amesbury home Thursday.
"I am feeling overwhelmed," Sanchez said, fighting back a tear. "It is just really special."
Kawa's Purple Heart and his Airborne Infantry badge are pinned to the dress uniform, which also came with his cap, in equally immaculate condition.
"His records were destroyed in a fire (in 1973) so we are not able to find out what he got the Purple Heart for," Sanchez said. "So there is a little bit of a mystery still involved."
Lynch, a Vietnam War veteran, has been working with the New Hampshire VFW for more than 30 years but said he never received a call like the one he got from Kirkland this spring.
"This came right out of the clear blue sky," Lynch said. "I didn't know what to make of it myself."
Lynch will be joined by Sanchez, her mother and her two brothers as well as Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray for a special presentation ceremony at Amesbury City Hall on Saturday at 10 a.m.
"I am very excited about this," Lynch said. "This is a great thing to be a part of."
While not sure if she is ready for the ceremony, Sanchez said she is also looking forward to it.
"I would really like to get all the emotion out of the way by Saturday," Sanchez said. "It will be very interesting to see what Mom thinks. My grandmother did remarry and (my mother) was adopted by a wonderful man. She had a great and wonderful life. So you just don't know."
Sanchez said Kirkland only made one request of her, which was to return the uniform to him if her family did not want to keep it.
Looking at the uniform for the first time Thursday afternoon, Sanchez said, "I don't think we're ever going to get rid of this."
Jim Sullivan can be reached at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.