Dog tags of WWII soldier found in German forest will return to St. Louis family after 75 years
By ERIN HEFFERNAN | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Published: February 16, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — It was a foggy day around Christmastime when a Dutch father and son made a discovery in a German forest that connected them to a World War II soldier and a St. Louis family some 4,500 miles away.
Marton Van Muilekom, a construction worker from the Southern Netherlands, and his 13-year-old son, Noël, were in the Hürtgen Forest with a few other family members on one of their regular hunts for artifacts.
The group scanned the forest floor with metal detectors hoping they would find something left behind during a 1944 WWII battle that raged for months in the thickly wooded forest on the western edge of Germany at its border with Belgium.
Soon they got a clear signal and dug about half a foot underground to find it: a silver dog tag.
The excited father and son hugged and stared at the slight piece of metal for at least 15 minutes, Van Muilekom told a reporter through social media using a translation app.
The name on the tag was still clearly visible: Joseph M. Joedicke.
The man behind the tags
Joseph Joedicke didn’t talk much about the war later in life in his home in south St. Louis, his grandsons Jason and Jim Joedicke say.
Once his time stationed in Germany ended, Joseph Joedicke focused on building a life back home — he married, and he and his wife, Genevieve, lived above the family’s Benton Park tinning business, Benton Sheet Metal. His father and mother lived behind the shop, which created custom sheet metal work for homes, Jim Joedicke said.
The veteran and his wife had two sons who took over the business, which eventually expanded to add heating and cooling services. Later Joseph had eight grandchildren, including Jason and Jim, who are in their 40s now and live in St. Louis County. His wife and sons are still living in the area.
The grandsons remember their grandpa for his dry sense of humor, dedication to family and hours he spent with them hunting or teaching them to make metal boxes in the tinning shop.
Joseph Joedicke died in February 1995 at 70. He was one of four generations of the family in the military — his father was in WWI, his son served in Vietnam and his grandson Jim was in the Army reserves.
This week the family got the unexpected reminder of his service.
Making the connection
Through a little online research from his home in the Netherlands, Van Muilekom was able to match up the name and ID number on the tag to an American soldier buried at Jefferson Barracks Cemetery in St. Louis County.
He tried to message Joedicke’s family on Facebook, without response at first. Eventually Lori Ritchey, who runs the Jefferson Barracks Historic Site Facebook page, agreed to help in the search, posting the story on the page.
Within hours, the post was shared hundreds of times, and members of the Joedicke family, including his grandsons, were tagged in the post.
“It was amazing,” said Jim Joedicke. He soon began speaking via Facebook with Van Muilekom.
“It was almost midnight there, but he told me his son couldn’t sleep because he was so excited,” Jim Joedicke said.
Van Muilekom said in an interview that he had grown up hearing stories about his own grandfather, who was forced to work in Germany during WWII making goods for the war effort, and about his father’s childhood during the war. Van Muilekom and his son searched for artifacts looking for just this kind of connection, he said.
Once the family was found, Van Muilekom put the tag in the mail, addressed to Jim Joedicke.
“We are glad that we could send it back to the family where it belongs,” he said.
Jason Joedicke plans to display the tag along with his grandpa’s bayonet and an ammo box from the war.
“I’m still blown away,” he said. “You never forget about somebody you love, but you don’t think about them every day, and then out of the blue you get a reminder like this. I can’t even find the words.”
His brother, Jim, summed up his thoughts on social media: “The world is very small and wonderful,” he wrote. “It’s amazing something as tragic as a war can bring us together across oceans and time.”