A handwritten October letter from a complete stranger helped Buzz Rogers put one more piece into place in assembling a history of his late father.
“Here are the dog tags that I found in South Ponte Vedra Beach,” wrote Barbara Galambos. “It’s an honor to get these back to you. It sounds like your father was an amazing man! I must say I’ve found thousands of items over the years and have returned dozens of items back to their owners or family but this one ranks in the top few.”
Galambos, a resident of St. Augustine, Florida, made an extraordinary find with hard-to-believe timing: Combing a familiar stretch of beach with her metal detector after Hurricane Matthew, she stumbled across the dog tags of the late Frank Mandeville Rogers, lost in some dunes for seven decades but found under eight inches of sand. Shortly thereafter, that stretch of beach was once again windblown and an eight-foot dune re-formed.
“When they came in, she sent them in a little box,” said Frank M. “Buzz” Rogers IV. “I opened them up and didn’t get emotional but I had chill bumps down my back. I realized, holding them, she was the first person to touch them in 70-plus years. I was the second person. It was my father’s – kind of spine tingling.”
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A true pilot
Rogers, 69, can trace his family’s Florence roots to Cornelius Mandeville, who built a home on Pocket Road in 1792. Known to many as one of the founding partners of WebsterRogers LLP, Rogers has spent a considerable amount of time cataloging and protecting family artifacts and heirlooms.
“Nobody will know how much time I spent on this,” he said, but in the last five or six years he’s “really ramped it up.”
His father died in 2010 at the age of 93, and Rogers started going through what his father left behind. Rogers also has a trove of probably 200 letters written by his late mother, Sallyann Robinson Rogers, that fill three boxes. Lately though, his father’s keepsakes have been on his mind.
“He had this intense interest in airplanes,” he said. He recalls a photo from junior high school featuring his father in a World War I-era pilot’s outfit. “You just know he was eaten up with it.”
A skilled saxophone player and guitarist, his father passed on his love of playing music, which he himself passed along to his son, a talented and sought-after Nashville-based producer and songwriter. Flying, though, was something his father loved with a deep passion. While attending the University of North Carolina, his father lettered in gymnastics, played in the marching band on campus and in a band that was a hit at parties: Duke, UNC, Wake Forest and “up and down the coast in the summer,” Rogers said.
“He did it to make extra money. His parents said do not take flying lessons, which he did with the money he was making,” he said. “By the time he graduated from college, he had his private pilot’s license. I’ve got all his log books – they’re so special to me, his flight books.”
Before too long, his father got his instructor’s license and made his way to Camden as a civilian instructor, akin to being in the civil service for the Air Force precursor, the Army Air Corps.
“He was a flight instructor before the war broke out and when he did, he joined the Marines,” Rogers said. His father shipped off to Corpus Christi, Texas, for fighter school as well as advanced training and night training.
As he was so far along with a wide range of skillsets as an instructor, his service was deemed most appropriate in teaching pilots to fly. Toward the end of World War II, he was itching to join the fight and transferred to Green Cove Springs Naval Air Station just south of Jacksonville, Florida.
“It was a huge naval base. He was sent there to get (aircraft) carrier landing training,” Rogers said. That was something Rogers figured out from poring over the flight logs. “I remember being on the (U.S.S.) Yorktown, I was down there with Dad, and he said, ‘That’s the one I landed on.’”
The late Frank M. Rogers was sent to Florida in March of 1945 but World War II would end a few months later.
“He was getting sent overseas. He was tired of teaching and wanted to go fight,” Buzz Rogers said. “But the war ended.”
A peace most don't experience
Not far from where his dad was stationed were desolate beaches stretching for miles. Growing up, his father spent plenty of summer months at Myrtle Beach and loved to swim. So it was only natural that a ride to the beach and some swimming was part of his time in Florida, Rogers surmises. At some point, he simply lost his dog tags.
Rogers thinks it was Oct. 17 when he got the phone call from Galambos, who left a voicemail explaining that she was pretty sure she had something that belonged to his father. At WebsterRogers, that time of year is when clients have to finalize tax returns that were granted extensions. It also followed the period after Hurricane Matthew in which everyone was regrouping.
“We were in chaos. We had no power for four days,” he said, and there had yet to be word on whether FEMA would grant an extension based upon the ramifications of a natural disaster. “She left a voicemail and said, ‘I think I found your Dad’s dog tags. So I stopped what I was doing and called her. She described them and I said, ‘That’s him.’”
The dog tags have a P for pilot and show the day of May 7, 1943, when Frank Mandeville Rogers joined the United States Marine Corps.
“May God bless you as I believe He has with this return,” Galambos wrote in her letter. “Seek Him and He will share a peace most don’t get to experience.”
After bestowing best wishes and sharing her contact information, Galambos penned a P.S.
“The tags are exactly as I found them. They have not been cleaned. Great condition all things considered.”
Looking at the long-lost treasure, Rogers marveled at the timing of the find.
“It’s just such a miracle that a person was on the beach with a metal detector after that terrible storm that ate away the dunes. It was a spot eight inches under the sand and just before eight feet of sand came back,” he said. “What are the chances?”