Dog tag lost in World War I returned to soldier's son

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 12, 2012 7:18 PM
Dog tag lost in World War I returned to soldier's son

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, MO (Reuters) - Somehow, maybe in a struggle to remove his helmet, Kent Potter lost his dog tag on a French battlefield in World War I.

Private Potter, who worked on an Army supply train that consisted mostly of mules and horses, survived the war and returned home to Kansas without the tag, which remained buried for more than 90 years.

At a ceremony hosted in the small town of Cottonwood Falls on Thursday, however, the worn, round metal tag finally landed back with the Potter family thanks to the efforts of two Frenchmen.

"I'm amazed that these two people in France still remember and appreciate what the United States did for their country," said Dale Potter, 75, the son and only child of Private Potter.

While World War I tags are often sold to military collectors, the two Frenchmen, Michael Toussaint and Jean-Claude Fonderflick, have instead sought to return the medallions they find to descendants of the soldiers who lost them.

Using metal detectors to search former battlefields, they have so far discovered a handful of American dog tags, including those of Walter Renfro.

"When they first called, my husband and I thought it was some kind of scam," said Renfro's granddaughter, Rita Drake, who learned details of the men's efforts through email exchanges. "No one is that nice anymore."

Later, Drake, who lives in El Paso, Illinois, helped the men locate the Potter family through military records that showed the soldier was from east-central Kansas. She also located the Wisconsin descendants of another lost dog tag owner, Leonard Stoltz.

She is still searching for relatives of the two other soldiers, Frank Kubas of Kansas City, Kansas, and Charles R. Thomas, home state uncertain.

At the Chase County Historical Museum in Cottonwood Falls on Thursday, where a picture of Private Potter and his Army company hung on the wall, Dale Potter received his father's dog tag in a ceremony attended by about 40 people.

Potter, in an interview, said his father rarely spoke of the war and never mentioned the lost dog tag, which was replaced.

Still, Potter did tell his son about a day he encountered mustard gas in a battlefield shelling and lost his helmet trying to get his mask on.

"That could have been when he lost his tag," Potter said.

He suffered burns to his head, which caused him to lose his hair relatively early in life, Potter said. He also suffered from emphysema caused by the mustard gas, he added.

"It was pretty tough on him," Potter said.

Potter said he is grateful to get a small piece of his father's war-torn past-- and thankful he survived whatever made him lose the dog tag.

"My dad didn't die there, he came home," Potter said. "There were so many who did not get to come home."

(Reporting By Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Paul Thomasch)