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WWII dog tag returned to family

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Dave and Terry Rocheleau are pictured in Hawaii.The dog tag sat by his computer for months and months, calling to him, Oregon City resident Dave Rocheleau said. “It wouldn’t leave me alone.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Elmer James Pappert lost his military dog tags, and 70 years later, a man vacationing in Hawaii found it buried in the sand.Rocheleau found the dog tag about three years ago, using his metal detector on Maui’s Kaanapali Beach. Judging from the date on the tag, it had been lost 70 years ago. On the tag was stamped the name E.J. Pappert.

It turns out that during World War II the U.S. Marines had a training facility nearby, so that explains how a young Marine could have lost his tag. But Rocheleau still considers it a miracle that he found it.

Because of “the dynamics of this beach, the sand totally changes every two years; the sand is constantly on the move,” he said. The beach that stretches in front of a cluster of hotels and resorts north of the touristy town of Lahaina, is a tourist destination, and he was not he only man on the beach with a metal detector.

Rocheleau, and his wife, Terry, did think at first perhaps the tag was part of cremains that a loved one had put on the beach, but that turned out not to be the case.

Encouraged to keep going

Rocheleau, an Oregon Coast Guard veteran, knew there was someone out there who would want the dog tag. So he brought the tag back home, and put it by the computer. He thought his best bet was to contact the Marine base at Quantico, but because he was not a family member, that turned into a dead end.

He did computer searches for E.J. Pappert, on and off for a few years, but was not successful in finding any answers.

Then he discovered Francesca Cumero, a California woman who has a website called Angelo’s Angels (ww2tags.org), a dog tag-return project, named for her Uncle Angelo and dedicated to returning lost dog tags to all veterans.

“I emailed her and she gave me the encouragement to keep going,” Rocheleau said.

In early 2012, Cumero discovered the name Kathy Busso, a Michigan woman who was listed as a survivor in an obituary for her brother. After more checking, Cumero convinced Rocheleau that Busso was Pappert’s daughter, so he called her last August.

“When I called, the whole family was out in the backyard for the wedding of Kathy’s daughter. She said she felt that her dad was communicating with her from heaven,” Rocheleau said.

Pappert had fought in both World War II and the Korean War, but died young in the 1970s, Busso told Rocheleau. She was only 15 when her father died, and then all her siblings passed away as well.

Her father did not survive to walk her down the aisle, but after Rocheleau’s call, Busso felt he was there to be part of her daughter’s wedding.

“Francesca and I knew there was someone out there who really wanted this dog tag,” Rocheleau said. “It was quite a journey, but I’m glad I stuck with it. When all the things fell into place, I knew it was meant to be from the get go.”

Even though many people think that hobbyists with metal detectors are in it to make money, Rocheleau said that wasn’t his experience.

“I have friends who use metal detectors and they go out of their way to return things they find,” he said. “The feeling is indescribable when you are able to return something to someone face to face; it is a very rewarding hobby.”

Monica Drake, a reporter with the The Oakland Press in Oakland County, Mich., and Tanya Joaquin, anchor/reporter for Hawaii News Now, contributed to this story.



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