Group helps return metal IDs to veterans, families

By W. WINSTON SKINNER winston@newnan.com Earnest Walker's dog tag -- found on an island in Indonesia and returned to his family in Coweta County on Friday -- is another victory for Pacific Wrecks. The organization has been around since 1997 and functions through a Web site -- pacificwrecks.org. Military ID tags and other memorabilia are found from time to time all over the Pacific basin. Many are like Walker's dog tag -- something lost by a soldier in World War II.
People who find the items can contact Pacific Wrecks and volunteers there -- at their own expense -- work to find the veteran or his family and to get items returned to someone for whom they will have meaning. Francesca Cumero is the Pacific Wrecks volunteer who got the e-mail from Eka Harithsyah, who had received Walker's dog tag from a friend some 10 years earlier and wanted to return it. Justin Taylan started Pacific Wrecks. Other volunteers with the group are John Innes, John Douglas, Henry Mayer, Richard Godin, Peter Flahavin and Christine Cook. Cook and Cumero searched records for information about Earnest Walker and were eventually able to get the tag to someone in the local area and arrange for its return. Cumero said Harithsyah "is just over the moon excited" about the tag being returned. "I wish I could meet him in person, because he seems very nice via e-mail," she said. Cumero, now the lead researcher for the dog tag project, has been helping with Pacific Wrecks for about two and half years. She got involved after she began researching the World War II experiences of her great-uncle, Angelo S. Viale. She remembered putting Viale's name into a Google search and getting a single hit -- a magazine article about a World War II veteran from Connecticut, Joseph E. Gunterman, who knew of 18 dog tags found on Munda on New Georgia Island in the Solomons. Viale's name was 14th on the list. Cumero eventually called Gunterman, and he tried without success to get the tag for her from the person who found it on Munda. "He was very surprised to hear from me, because he'd published the article almost two years before, with no responses forthcoming. I was the first person to ever call him about the dog tag," she related. Cumero began working with Pacific Wrecks. Her joy in returning dog tags to veterans or their families is clear. "I've probably returned over 50 tags at this point," she said. "Almost every single one has been a collaboration with one of the people on the Pacific Wrecks Dog Tag Return team. They find the tags and usually mail them to me so that I can do the leg work. Without them, there wouldn't be any tags to return, so it is most definitely a team effort," she said. She spoke of Cook, the newest volunteer, who "is an amazing researcher who helps me out when I get swamped." While all of the dog tag returns bring special happiness to Cumero, she occasionally has what she calls "lucky experiences" that border on the metaphysical. "At the risk of sounding crazy, there are times when I almost feel the veteran whose tag I am trying to return help me locate their relative," she said. She recalled working for a year in an effort to find a relative of Ward T. Noble, a Vietnam veteran. Cook found out the names of his children -- who were in their twenties -- but Cumero wondered if she would ever find them. "Knowing how transient I was while in college, I didn't have much hope," she said. The Saturday before Father's Day, she sat on her back deck, holding Noble's dog tag and hoping she might hear ... something. "The day after Father's Day, I got a phone call from his daughter, Lauren. She had been sitting at the computer in the late eve of Father's Day night. She told me that she was thinking of her father and something just prompted her to Google his name," Cumero remembered. "She didn't expect to find anything," Cumero said. "She now has his tag back -- and I also believe that it was Ward's way of reaching out to her on Father's Day."


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