Soldier Returns Library Book 64 Years Overdue

Honesty pays. And, it’s never too late. As Vic Carter explains, these are two phrases that describe an unusual act 64 years in the making.

This one involves a library book checked out in downtown Baltimore that traveled halfway around the world and finally found its way back home.

Nearly 50 years ago, John Wolfe was recuperating from surgery at Fort Meade and came to Baltimore with other soldiers to see the sights. One of his stops was at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Knowing he was being deployed to the Far East, he decided to learn more about the culture and the language.

“I saw this book and thinking that I was going to the Pacific, I thought it would come in handy,” said Wolfe. “So I borrowed it, but then I didn’t go to the Pacific, I went to Italy instead.”

The book, “Sound and Symbol in Chinese” made the trip to Europe, and when Wolfe left the military, he moved to France—with the book still in his possession.

“I ran across it in our library just a few months ago and said ‘Oh, I better get this back. The late fees are going to be pretty substantial by now; that was 60 years ago,’” he said. “So, I sent it back to them.”

What’s even more amazing about this story is that the book was apparently a popular one in its prime.

“It has all these dates from the 30s and the 40s,” said Roswell Encina, Enoch Pratt Library. “It’s just amazing when you see something from 1937, 1938 and all the people that read through it.”

But what about those late fees?

“The rate right now is 20 cents a day,” Encina said. “If we calculate everything back to 1946, it’s going to be about more than $4,700. But the good news is, here at the Pratt library, once it’s past 30 days of late fees, it can’t go over $6 for an adult book.”

“I was grateful to them for waiving the fees,” Wolfe said.

When asked why didn’t he just forget about returning the book since it was so long ago that he checked it out, Wolfe simply replied: “It didn’t belong to me.”

The good folks at the Enoch Pratt Library say their laughter and smiles over the story was worth much more than the $6 late fee.

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