On this Veterans Day after 70 years, a small piece of Earl Vogelar, a Michigan soldier stationed in Nome during World War II, is finally on its way home.
Nome resident Mario Gandolfo was combing the Bering Sea coast for sea glass last week when he says the small brass treasure found its way into his hands.
“I bent down to pick up a piece of sea glass and the wave went out, and as I was picking it up the wave came back in and with the wave—the only way I can really describe it—it was almost as if God’s hand had incorporated into a wave and he placed this 1943 World War II dog tag into my hand,” said Gandolfo. “And I just looked at it and stood up in complete shock.”
Perfectly preserved though battered by the waves, the dog tag identified Vogelar as a solider from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Gandolfo said, immediately, he wondered what happened to the solider and how his tag wound up in the Bering Sea.
“I was in basically a mild state of shock because all these things were going through my mind: were they out of maneuvers and they hit a reef or something off of Nome and they sunk and everybody was lost on board? All these things were going through my mind,” said Gandolfo. “I’ve got to find out what happened to this man.”
After a bit of investigation with help from social media and a Grand Rapids television station, Vogelar’s family was located. It turns out the soldier was stationed at what is now the Nome Airport. He was a member of the 11th Airforce Squadron and helped transport tanks and planes from the Lower 48 to Alaska. A survivor of the war, Vogelar finished his life as a welder and died in 1994.
Due to a family feud, Vogelar never knew his grandson Dustin, but Gandolfo was able to meet Dustin over Skype to share the news of the recovered tag and see photos of Vogelar as a young soldier.
“Even right now sitting here my arms…the hair is standing up. I just get all chilled thinking about it,” said Gandolfo. “I mean, most people’s reaction would be, ‘That’s cool, I’m gonna keep this,’ but to me, this is somebody’s life and obviously it was lost and it had to find its way back to where it belonged.”
Vogelar’s tag is currently on its way home to Linda, his eldest daughter, and Gandolfo said he’s happy his stroke of luck came at the opportune time.
“I feel really good, especially because I found these people before Veteran’s Day. That makes it even more special, you know? There aren’t that many WWII vets left and we should cherish and honor them each day that we can,” said Gandolfo.
And if this rare find isn’t impressive enough, Gandolfo added that he believes he found two other military relics along the beach this week: a Confederate States of America brass belt buckle and a fork from the U.S. Army.