Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

N.J. vet gets back dog tags he lost in World War II

NEWARK, N.J. — Carol Wilkins leaned over her father's wheelchair and handed him the small red box, a heart-shaped cutout revealing its contents: weathered, bent silver dog tags.

"Oh, Daddy, look," Wilkins exclaimed as her 90-year-old father opened it, his eyes beaming and smile wide. "They're back."

Sixty-nine years after losing his dog tags on the battlefields of southern France, Willie Wilkins reclaimed them Wednesday after a trans-Atlantic effort that started more than a decade ago in a French back yard and ended with a surprise ceremony in Newark City Hall.

"I am so happy," Carol Wilkins said. "You don't know what joy is on my heart for what you have done for my father."

In August 1944, Willie Wilkins was an Army corporal fighting in the Allied invasion of southern France. Amid the horrors of battle, Wilkins' job was one of the grimmest. A quartermaster, Wilkins was responsible for removing and identifying the bodies of dead American servicemen and having them buried or transported back to the United States.

At some point during the invasion, Willie Wilkins's silver dog tags slipped off his neck. It's unclear how it happened.

Wilkins and his family were convinced the small medallion would remain a tangible piece of the history of the invasion, buried somewhere in what were once the bloody battlefields of Provence. It did for 56 years.

Then in 2001, Anne-Marie Crespo was tilling soil around an olive tree in a corner of her back yard in Istres, France, a village about 35 miles northwest of Marseille, when she found the dog tags.

She knew the tags belonged to a soldier and presumed he had died on the battlefield. But an lengthy online search eventually led to him.

When the phone call came, Carol Wilkins thought it was a prank: The dog tags had been found. Wilkins said her dad "was just smiling. He was so happy."

Willie Wilkins was honored in a ceremony in Newark City Hall, where Mayor Cory Booker presented the Wilkinses with the dog tags on Wednesday, Victory in Europe Day. The ceremony was attended by Bertrand Lortholary, the Counsul General of France.

When asked if he ever thought he would see his dog tags again, Willie Wilkins shook his head.

"I never did," he said.

N.J. vet gets back dog tags he lost in World War II 05/09/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 9, 2013 10:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Bucs-Bills roundtable: Deonte Thompson's late catch spelled 'instant disaster' for Bucs

    Bucs

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Adam Humphries' fumble led to the Bills' game-winning field goal in Tampa Bay's 30-27 loss Sunday at Buffalo. But the Bills' first play after the Bucs finally took the lead was almost as deadly.

    The Buffalo Bills' Deonte Thompson (10) catches a pass in front of Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes (24) during the first half. [AP photo]
  2. Bucs-Bills: Instant analysis from the Bucs' 30-27 loss

    Bucs

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Here's the Tampa Bay Times' Bucs coverage team's instant analysis from the Bucs' 30-27 loss at Buffalo:

    YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP

    Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Matt Milano (58) intercepts a Jameis Winston (3) pass intended for tight end Cameron Brate (84) during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  3. Bucs overcome 11-point deficit, then allow game to slip away, 30-27, to Bills

    Bucs

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — In less than a minute, a hard-fought win — and perhaps much more — slipped away from the Bucs, who gave up 10 points in the final four minutes and lost to the Bills, …

    Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) tries to turn the corner as Bucs outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) forces him out of bounds during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Rep. Wilson accuses White House chief of staff of 'character assassination,' calls for apology

    Nation

    WASHINGTON - Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, D-Fla., on Sunday called White House chief of staff John F. Kelly "a puppet of the president" and said he should apologize for having made false claims about her while defending President Donald Trump's military condolence calls.

    Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., talks to reporters, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) FLAD103
  5. Metal engine cover piece breaks off jet, falls from sky in Clearwater

    Accidents

    CLEARWATER — A piece of metal broke off a jet leaving St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport Sunday morning, but the aircraft turned around and landed safely about 8:40 a.m., according to investigators.