WWII dog tag found by French soldier returned to US soldier's family
By MATT COMBS | The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va. (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 15, 2018
A dog tag holds special significance for a soldier.
A thin sheet of metal, it is similar to soldiers themselves, uniform in their design but each having identifying characteristics.
In 2013, a French soldier named Renaud Archour was walking the famed Maginot Line when he noticed a thin piece of metal lying on the ground. When he picked it up, he realized that it was an American dog tag from World War II.
A member of a local historical organization, the Friends of the Maginot Line of Oberroedern, Archour knew that another member, Jean-Luc Fechter, had American relatives and thought they might be able to help learn about whom the tag belonged to.
The searchers had the name of the man, Wallace Adkins, but that was it.
Fechter contacted an American cousin, Kirk Fechter, and asked if he could help.
Kirk Fechter just happens to be the safety director of Fort Meade, a large military base in Maryland, and with the help of some active duty personnel was able to track down Adkins' information.
Adkins was from Harts in Lincoln County and enlisted in the Army on Aug. 5, 1943.
During his time in Europe, Adkins would receive two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star before returning home to West Virginia.
The American Fechter tracked down Adkins' family with the help of a local historian who happened to know Adkins' grandson.
The puzzle had been solved, but Fechter's French cousin was too worried about the dog tag being lost in the mail and waited until Kirk Fechter came to Europe in July 2017 to turn over the precious item.
The search and the caution came to a climax on Monday, nearly 75 years since the dog tag was lost.
"I don't even know how to put it into words," said Mike Adkins Jr., the grandson of Wallace Adkins. "I just want to thank everybody that made this possible."
Into his family's genealogy, Adkins Jr. said that he keeps everything he can belonging to his forebears.
Having never met his grandfather, Adkins Jr. is happy to have a little piece of him to hold onto.
"I was really surprised the shape that the dog tag was in," he said.
For Mike Adkins Sr., the memento of his father takes him back.
"I had a lot of time with my dad," Adkins Sr. said, adding that his mother died when he was young and that it was just himself and his father.
For the World War II veteran's son, the return of the dog tag adds a great deal to his memory after Wallace Adkins' original medals were destroyed in a house fire.
"It's the only thing that's left over other than the photographs that we've got, and they're few and far between," Adkins Sr. said. He still cannot believe that an object so small was found and returned.
While happy to see the dog tag, the son of the veteran said that it belongs with his son.
"For his sake, for the research that he's done in it, I felt more joy for him," Adkins Sr. said. "It's just hard to comprehend."
For Kirk Fechter, returning the artifact lifts a weight off his shoulders.
"There's excitement but then there's relief because I didn't want to lose the thing," Fechter said.
A veteran himself, the only option for Fechter was finding the rightful owner of the tag to return it to.
"This is a hero that fought in the war and this is one way to honor that and I also want to honor all the vets," Fechter said. "I want to let them know that we love them."
In a way, it was Fechter's own genealogy research that made the dog tag reunion possible.
Before researching his own family, Fechter had no contact with his French cousins, including the one who turned the dog tag over.
Being into his own family history, Fechter knows the importance of any personal object from the past to the family that it belongs to.
"Objects are important," he said.
Although never knowing his grandfather, Mike Adkins Jr. grew up hearing stories about him and has always looked up to the World War II veteran.
"He went through a lot of things over there," Adkins Jr. said. "I know it had to be tough."
Having an object from his grandfather reinforces his views of the man, his family and his country.
"I never got to meet him," Adkins Jr. said. "I wish I could've, just going by the stories I've been told growing up. I'm very proud of my family name and where our people come from."
Although not certain where the dog tag will be stored, Adkins Jr. said he thinks the best place will be in the shadowbox containing his grandfather's funeral flag.