Long-lost dog tags from WWII Army days returned to Va. veteran
By LAURA PETERS | The (Staunton, Va.) News Leader | Published: June 28, 2014
SWOOPE, Va. — When Denton Layman and his wife, Virginia, entered the old Glebe Schoolhouse, it was like stepping back in time.
The Laymans once lived on a nearby farm and spent their first years of their marriage there.
It was just happenstance that Denton Layman was talking about his dog tags a few weeks back.
He wondered where they could be and how long ago he'd lost them.
Standing in the place where one tag was discovered just weeks ago, by a total stranger, Denton Layman now holds what he had once lost.
The schoolhouse, which was built the mid-1800s, is being renovated by Dr. Robert Cocke, who is an emergency room doctor at Augusta Health.
The schoolhouse is the oldest known one-room school house in Augusta County, Cocke said. Looking up into the exposed beams, you can see where the bell was rung to start the day.
He's owned it since February and plans to restore the house and make it into his personal home.
One day, he saw a bunch of knick-knacks sitting on the window sill.
A few weeks ago, Cocke was pulling up the floors in the house. After digging up the floor and creating a crawl space, Cocke's contractors found an array of objects — one of which he almost tossed.
Cleaning it up a bit, Cocke realized it was a dog tag with the name Denton E. Layman. Cocke looked him up and Layman was registered as a veteran with his serial number, but that's as far as it went.
"I sort of gave up on it," Cocke said.
It wasn't until the one of the workers at the old school house for Cocke knew Denton Layman, after Cocke described what he found.
"It was just a random connection," Cocke said.
"It's been wild," Virginia Layman said.
Virginia and Denton Layman lived out at a farm from 1947 until 1952 when they moved to Churchville. The Wagner family lived in the old school house for a number of decades and the boys of the family used to help out on the Layman's farm.
"The only connection we had is that one of the boys who lived here helped him on the farm, that might be how it got here, but we have no idea," Virginia Layman said.
On June 15, Denton Layman stood there stoically as his wife gushed about the great adventure they had been through to get his tags back. The 94-year-old still remembers what it was like when he returned home from the war in 1946.
"There was a lot of hoping there that I would come home," Denton Layman said. "Because a lot of us didn't."
As a private in the infantry, but suffered frostbite on his leg and foot that almost cost him his limb entirely, while he was in a foxhole during the Battle of the Bulge.
Moving up ranks to a sergeant and surviving frost bite, Denton Layman was sent to Berlin where he worked in the Army Air Force as a supply technician.
In 1946, he returned home to his bride. Virginia Layman still to this day remembers the serial number she'd have to use to correspond to Denton Layman throughout the war.
Denton Layman took the dog tag out of a small box June 15 and fitted it onto a chain his great-grandson gave him. He stood proudly as the shiny tags dangled, touching it occasionally with a small smile on his face.