LODI, Calif. - Former Air Force pilot Phil Litts earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for one of his many combat missions in Vietnam, but says the more precious memento of that day is a statuette of the Baby Jesus in his breast pocket that caught a bullet fired from the ground.
"The bullet would have gone right through my heart," Litts said.
Litts was a forward air controller flying out of Da Nang and Tam Ky in 1970. He said the lucky statuette was given to him by an older cousin who had carried in in World War II.
The 70-year-old brought the medal and statuette with him Jan. 14 to the Denny's on Harbor Boulevard in West Sacramento where he was meeting his friend, the well-known cartoonist Morrie Turner, who died a week later.
Litts said he and Turner were sharing war stories over breakfast. As they left, he placed the items on the roof of his car as he helped Turner with a wheelchair - then drove away.
"I drove back to Denny's that same night and talked to the manager," Litts said. "Those people for the next three days did everything in their power. They even had their husbands check the pawnshops for me."
In desperation, Litts had a friend help him place an ad on Craigslist.
"PLEASE HELP ME! NO QUESTIONS ASKED I PROMISE!" the ad reads. "Both items are completely irreplaceable and have HUGE...ENORMOUS sentimental family value to me."
Litts understands the odds of recovering the statuette and Air Force medal are extremely low, but he points out the Baby Jesus figurine brought him luck one day 44 years ago.
"Miracles happen every day," he said.