City of Union employee Wayne Hardy was collecting bottles and scrap from an area being cleared in May when a WWII Army dog tag, partially blackened from age and the elements, caught his eye.
Hardy picked up the tag, stamped with the name Leo Henderson Jr., and a serial number that was still visible. It didn’t take him long to decide to set out to find the owner, although he expected the tag would likely belong to a veteran who had been dead for years.
The area where the dog tag was found was an old city dump that had been closed years ago. “It’s a miracle that we found (it),” Hardy said. “They’ve been burning brush day and night here and we’ve mostly found some old bottles, they say some are 70 years old and to find this ... it was amazing.”
After months of searching for the owner, the heavy equipment operator of 10 years and Public Services director Perry Harmon found Henderson, 86, and his wife, Norma, living in Union. They traced him from a relative’s obituary found during a Google search.
Henderson lives along West Main Street in Union and said he long wondered whatever happened to his dog tags. He was assigned two tags during Army training in the early 1940s, and was delighted when Harmon and Hardy delivered one of them to him Friday.
He said he hadn’t seen his tags for at least 57 years after first returning from the Army to his mother’s home when the war ended in 1945.
Henderson was in the 69th Infantry Division and fought for three years in Germany. He also received a Purple Heart after being shot by a sniper in Germany.
He moved away from home when he was 21 or 22 and suspects his mother unknowingly discarded the dog tags while cleaning years ago and they ended up in the landfill.
“I got those tags when I was 18 years old,” said Henderson, who can still recite the serial number on the tag.
“That’s what amazed me,” Hardy said. “He was saying the numbers before we got in the door.”
The recovered dog tag is now safely stored alongside the Purple Heart.
Norma Henderson said her husband wouldn’t talk about the war for years, but has been sharing memories lately.
“Every once in a while, he would say, ‘I wonder what ever happened to my dog tags,’” Norma Henderson said.
Henderson said memories of the war come rushing back periodically, and he associates his dog tags with the battles.
“They were a part of me,” Henderson said. “They hung right here,” he said, gesturing to his neck, “and I wore them for three straight years. I’m glad to get them back.”
Harmon and Hardy said they were grateful to return the tag to its rightful owner. Harmon joked that Hardy would likely be searching for the other tag this week.
“(Norma Henderson) has promised me a chocolate pound cake,” Hardy said. “If I find the other one, I might get a whole meal.”
Hardy said he doesn’t think Henderson could’ve been any happier if he had won the lottery.
“To be able to put them back in his hands, that was something,” Hardy said. We were amazed that after all these years had passed, that we found it and it was in such good shape.”