A Marine Corps vet who fought in World War II received an unexpected gift at his retirement home this weekend: a military identification tag he had lost more than six decades ago.
Richard Urie lost the dog tag when he was stationed on the island of Saipan in 1945, reported The Boston Globe on Wednesday. A Saipan resident had found the tag in 1981 in a yam field, reported The Globe, but it was only a few months ago that Urie, an Internet-savvy 86-year-old, found out via his Facebook account that a piece of his military history had been uncovered.
Urie was at home in his Peabody, Mass. senior living community with his four daughters, two sons-in-law, and a friend on Sunday when an assistant U.S. attorney came to deliver the tag.
“It’s quite exciting. There’s been a lot of publicity up here. At 86 years old, you don’t expect something like this,” Urie told msnbc.com.
Saipan is the biggest of the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific. Urie didn't remember losing his tag, but estimated it was probably about seven months before he was discharged in 1946, reported The Saipan Tribune.
U.S. soldiers in the field wear two identification tags at all times. If they are killed, one tag is collected, and the the other stays with the body. Urie held onto his remaining tag, but had no idea that a man named Mike Villagomez, who grew up on Saipan, had found the other tag while clearing rocks in his family's dagu - or white yam - farm when he was 13 years old in 1981, reported The Saipan Tribune.
As a youth, Villagomez frequently found war artifacts, such as grenades and canteens, he told the paper. Once he even found human remains.
"I would imagine what had happened in that particular place I was exploring," the now 43-year-old gym teacher said.
Villagomez had forgotten about Urie's dog tag until years later when his wife, Erlinda, came across it in a pencil case, reported The Saipan Tribune. Erlinda Villagomez works at the US Attorney's Office in Saipan and in November, she mentioned the dog tag to special investigator deputy marshal Randy Kruid after noticing he had dog tags of his own framed in his office, said The Saipan Tribune.
Kruid found Urie after a quick Internet search.
Urie joined the Marine Corps in 1943 at 19, and became a PFC radio operator stationed in Saipan, said The Globe. Kruid wasn't sure if he would still be alive.
"I thought I was talking to a family member," Kruid told the Saipan Tribune of corresponding via email with the 86-year-old war vet. "It was an amazing experience."
Urie felt the same.
“I’ve become very friendly with them and the people over there,” he told msnbc.com. “We correspond quite regularly. I’m on the Internet anyways; that’s the way I live my life,” he said, adding that in addition to Facebook and email, he also uses Skype to talk with his four daughters, who live in various places across the country.
Urie's wife died nearly three years ago, but finding the dog tag has brought back memories that he looks forward to sharing with his seven grandchildren, he said.
“We never talked too much about [the war],” he told msnbc.com, “but this is kind of exciting for them.”
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