Published Sunday, July 12, 2009
The Newnan Times-Herald
The small, square, stapled piece of paper held history within it.
Bernice Jones Walker held the folded paper in her hands as she sat on the sofa at her comfortable home in a pleasant, wooded spot near Sharpsburg. She undid the staples and unfolded the note from the other side of the world. Inside was a metal military identification tag that her husband, Earnest W. Walker, had lost more than 65 years ago.
Her granddaughter, Lisa Jackson, read the note surrounding the dog tag aloud. The note was from Eka Harithsyah, who had gotten the World War II artifact from a friend. In the note, Harithsyah spoke of his desire to return the tag to Walker's family and how "the miracle of the Internet" made that once impossible dream possible.
When she first unwrapped the metal tag, Bernice Walker did not speak. After a moment, she said, "That really was nice for somebody to do something like this," she said.
Earnest Walker, a young soldier from Coweta County, lost his dog tag while serving in Indonesia during World War II. Then several years ago someone found the tag on Morotai Island, one of the Maluku Islands in Indonesia.
The person who found the tag gave it to his brother, who -- a decade ago, while in college -- gave it to Harithsyah. "I don't know exactly when, how and where his brother found it," Harithsyah said.
The Indonesian did recall his feelings when he saw the piece of history for the first time. "I was totally amazed. I never saw an authentic GI dog tag" before, he remembered.
Harithsyah's friend gave him the relic, believing it would be more meaningful to Harithsyah. "I have a strong interest in World War II history," Harithsyah explained.
"I had a Grandpa who also fought in World War II, so I do understand the meaning of this tag to someone. But then I didn't know the way to return it. Years passed, and I totally forgot about the tag," he related.
When Harithsyah began looking for a way to return the tag several months ago, he looked on the Internet. He found information on Earnest Walker on the U.S. National Archive and Records Administration Database. That information showed Walker was 18 and living on the Moreland rural mail route when he joined the U.S. Army at Fort McPherson on Feb. 21, 1941.
Harithsyah continued his online search and found the site for the Pacific Wrecks Dog Tag Project. Francesca Cumero and Christine Cook, volunteers with Pacific Wrecks, got his message and searched records for information about Earnest Walker.
They were able to determine that Walker died in 1987, but could not locate any relatives. Cumero was able to reach -- online -- a member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Meriwether County, and a connection was made with Bernice Walker and her family.
Plans were made to present the dog tag -- and a certificate -- to Mrs. Walker on July 5, the Sunday after Independence Day, at the church near Alvaton. An unexpected trip to the hospital kept Mrs. Walker from attending the service.
The dog tag story was shared during the service. April and Tiffany James read items from a timeline that told how the dog tags were lost, found and returned to America. Jane Skinner shared "The Greatest Generation," a poem by Cumero, during the presentation.
A few days later, Bernice Walker was visibly moved when the dog tag and the certificate were presented to her.
She said she and her husband knew each other when they were growing up. "We were all country folks," she said.
Earnest Walker, who worked for many years at William L Bonnell Company, rarely spoke of his World War II experiences. Mrs. Jackson owns a pot issued to her grandfather during his military service that has the date -- 1941 -- stamped on it.
His remaining quiet about his time in Indonesia was not surprising. "He never was a talker," his granddaughter said.
Bernice Walker worked in a textile mill for a time as a young woman. "That wasn't my cup of tea," she said with a chuckle, her eyes sparkling. "I didn't tarry long."
She went to work at Newnan Hospital as a nurse assistant and stayed there -- nursing patients and assisting doctors for 42 years. She spoke with pride of working with Dr. Ernest Proctor, who died young and is still remembered by longtime Newnanites as a particularly gifted physician.
Some special photographs are among Mrs. Walker's most treasured mementos. One is a large image of young women who worked at the hospital in the 1960s. "I took care of those little girls," the 84-year-old widow said with a vibrant smile.
Another photograph is a long, narrow shot of Earnest Walker and his World War II comrades. Despite some problems with her eyes, Bernice Walker quickly found her beloved's image among the rows of soldiers.
Now his dog tag has come home -- a reminder of his time of service to his country. In Sharpsburg -- and on the other side of the world -- there are some happy people.
The dog tag "has so many memories and stories," Harithsyah said.