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World War II collector in Netherlands finds dog tag of late St. Petersburg man

Melanie Trubey got the e-mail early one morning.

A stranger from the Netherlands was asking about her family. And he offered some startling news of his own.

"Being a collector of WW II items and stories and, in the first place, a great admirer of the American soldiers that liberated our country at the end of WW II, I found while using my metal detector a Dog-Tag with the name: Milton S. Reese written on it,'' wrote a man called Felix de Klein.

Is she Milton S. Reese's granddaughter, he asked. Is her mother Midge Trubey and is she Milton S. Reese's daughter? Did Milton S. Reese serve in the U.S. Army during World War II and was he in the Netherlands?

"You have found the right person and the right family," she replied.

By then, Trubey, house manager at Ronald McDonald House Central in St. Petersburg, had broken the news to her mother, Midge, a retired caterer, florist and event planner.

Midge Trubey and her sisters, Alice Blanc and Robin Ragsdale, likened the news to having their adored father, who died in 1992, back — if only for a moment.

"It truly is like your lost loved one just reaches out to touch you,'' Midge Trubey, 61, said.

"It's kind of like a little bit of Daddy popping back up again," said Blanc, 55, who works in claims for Allstate.

Ragsdale, a former Indian Rocks Beach resident who retired to Anna Maria Island, added: "It's one of those things you don't ever expect to have happen. It's like Daddy coming back and saying, 'Hi, I'm here.' "

Their father had been a communications sergeant during World War II, serving with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

• • •

Over in the small Dutch village of Hernen, de Klein, 43, a married father of two young children, was curious about the American whose dog tag he'd found. After scouring the Internet, he found Melanie Trubey through her work at Ronald McDonald House. Days later, the carpenter wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times that his hobby as a collector of World War II artifacts had been inspired by his grandfather's stories of the conflict.

"With my metal detector, I go to the battlefields of Market Garden and dig up all the relics,'' he said, referring to the Allies' Operation Market Garden, described as one of the boldest plans of World War II.

De Klein found the dog tag bearing Milton S. Reese's name at the site of a U.S. field hospital. As to how it got there, one only has to turn to the late St. Petersburg man's daughters, each of whom is the repository of a different piece of his story.

"When they made the invasion, he was in a glider and the glider crashed into a tree. Daddy was in a field hospital,'' Midge Trubey said.

Their father and another soldier survived the crash, said Blanc, who learned parts of her father's tale when the Army buddy visited the family home. Their father was piloting the glider when it crashed, Blanc said. The equipment it carried rolled forward, trapping or killing their fellow soldiers. Her father and his buddy were rescued by a first aid convoy, which promised to send help for the others.

"Unfortunately, the Germans came through and they killed them,'' Blanc said.

Ragsdale, 60, had heard few details of her father's war story.

"He broke his ankle,'' she said. "He never elaborated what happened to him after that and how he got to where he got.''

After the war, their father returned home and married.

"Mother was divorced with two of us girls and he had never been married and fell madly in love with my mom,'' Midge Trubey said, adding that she was 3 at the time and sister Robin was 1.

Their mother, Sarah Jane, and father had two more daughters, Alice, and Carol Ann, the baby of the blended family. Carol Ann died three years ago.

• • •

For more than three decades, their father worked for the city of St. Petersburg. His jobs included assistant to the city manager, director of service and information and manager of central records and mail service. He was sanitation director during the contentious 1968 sanitation strike. Midge Trubey said her father's car was checked for bombs every morning before he went to work and when he left at night. He also helped start the Mainsail Arts Festival.

Milton Reese was 71 when he died.

For his family, news of the find an ocean away is bittersweet.

Blanc, the keeper of her father's Bronze Star, badges and the flag from his funeral, wants to donate some of the memorabilia to de Klein for his private collection in the Netherlands.

"He's very proud that the Americans freed his country. It's quite moving that he's doing this,'' she said.

There's one thing she hopes de Klein would do for her. She wants to touch the dog tag that hung near her father's heart more than 60 years ago.

Then, she promises, she'd send it back.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

World War II collector in Netherlands finds dog tag of late St. Petersburg man 05/04/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 5:53pm]

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