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"Badge of honor' is finally returned

Published Sep. 13, 2005

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

They didn't cost much to make. About $1.75 for two in today's prices.

And they were no bigger than a quarter.

But it meant the world to retired Marine Harold F. Dangler, 73, when he was presented Monday with one of the aluminum dog tags he lost 54 years ago.

It was a great day for his wife, Doris, too. The couple celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary Friday.

"He's so excited," she said shortly before the ceremony began at Seminole City Hall.

Dangler of Seminole proudly accepted a plaque containing the long-lost dog tag from Maj. Gen. Jack W. Klimp, commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command. Klimp made a special trip from Washington, D.C., for the presentation, attended by 100 people, including the Danglers' three children: Pat Osinga and Catherine Hudson, of Seminole, and Douglas, of Austin, Texas.

"They're only pieces of metal to most people, but to a Marine, dog tags are a badge of honor," said Dangler, who was a private first-class during World War II.

"And I'm very honored that a general would come and present this to a private."

The story of how he lost his dog tags began in October 1943.

Barely 17, Dangler dropped out of high school to join the Marines and the war effort.

Shortly after, he was shipped to Guadalcanal, where some of the bloodiest fighting was taking place on the Japanese front.

"During one really bad air raid, I dove toward the beach. I was so scared, I just wanted to get the heck out of there."

He realized his dog tags were gone, but he didn't have time to look for them because his unit was being shipped to Guam shortly.

A few days later, William "Bill" Herbert Jack of New Zealand picked up one of the tags in the shallow water off the Guadalcanal beach. The other one was never found.

Jack, from the 34th Battalion of the 3rd New Zealand Division, was a member of "Loganforce," a special advance troop drawn from American and New Zealand forces.

Before he died in 1970, Jack told his son, Denny, about the dog tag. Thinking Dangler had been killed, the elder Jack wanted to track down his relatives and return it to them.

But he never did.

Instead, the dog tag remained tucked away in an old jewelry box in New Zealand for 54 years until Denny Jack found it in June 1997.

In the meantime, Dangler went back to Maplewood, N.J., got married and had stints as a police officer, a firefighter, a postman and a landscaper.

The Danglers moved to Seminole in 1966.

Knowing only Dangler's name, serial number and blood type, Denny Jack contacted the U.S. Embassy in Wellington, N.Z. Officials there called Gunnery Sgt. Cynthia Atwood, who works for Maj. Gen. Klimp, at the Marine Corps Recruiting Command in Washington, D.C.

After checking with the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which stores the records for all living and dead servicemen and women, Atwood found Dangler in Seminole.

And in December, Atwood surprised Dangler by telling him one of his tags had been found.

Dangler, who is disabled, continues to serve his country as a civilian.

He is the commander of the Seminole Chapter No. 93 of the Disabled American Veterans and belongs to several other veterans' groups. He is also a life member of the Morris F. Dixon Jr. Detachment (Clearwater) of the U.S. Marine Corps League.

Dangler also promotes BABI, a nonprofit organization he founded. It stands for "Busting Attitude Barriers through Involvement" and it's Dangler's way of bridging the gap between the disabled and people without disabilities.

But Monday was a day for Dangler to be honored by his colleagues. Although he was greeted by many, he was touched by a note wishing him well sent by someone who couldn't make the ceremony.

"The tags are finally home!" Denny Jack wrote.