The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

May 5, 2014

Dog tag takes long journey to return to soldier’s family

NARROWS, Va — This is a story that takes a little while to unfold. A local man who was searching for old bottles in the vicinity of the boat ramp in Narrows, Va., spotted something shiny on the bank of the new river.

It wasn’t too far from the shore — perhaps 6 or 12 inches. He said that he reached out with a stick and poked it. When he got it out of the water, he saw that it was a metal military dog tag, pitted with some rust, but still legible.

The man who found the dog tag is a private person who asked that his name not be included in the paper with the story. He didn’t even call the newspaper to share the story. He put the dog tag in his pocket and carried it around with him for about a year and one-half until he saw a reporter he knew only from stories he had seen in the newspaper. He asked the reporter if he would see what he could find out about it, and possibly return it to the family of the soldier who wore the identification tag.

The dog tag sat on a desk for another 8 to 10 months, until John Velke, a well known Bluefield author, researcher and contributing writer for American Digger Magazine, demonstrated how easy it was to search for people through Ancestry.com.

In a matter of a few hours, Velke was able to identify the soldier named on the World War II era dog tag, and locate the soldier’s granddaughter who lives in Vas Vegas, Nev. He said she is a nurse with two sons — one in the U.S. Navy and the other works as a carpenter. The soldier’s granddaughter — Terry Lynn Gasper — is excited because her son, Tyler, who is serving in the Navy, and his wife Shelby, who is also serving in the Navy, are about to have a baby.

“My first grandchild,” she said during a telephone interview from her home in Las Vegas.

The name on the dog tag was Lewis Milton “Buss” Michael, who was born in Maryland on May 29, 1918, but was living in Somerset, Pa., on Jan. 7, 1944, when he joined the U.S. Army. When he entered the military, Pvt. Michael listed his skills as miner and a mining machine operator. As an interesting note, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001 on a reclaimed surface mine between Indian Lake and Shanksville.

Although the race of Pvt. Michael was listed as white, his grandfather was a Native American who served as a code talker with the military. Pvt. Michael died in Maryland on Jan. 9, 1959, and is buried in Garrett County, Md. He was 40 years old.

“Wow!” Terry Gasper said. “It’s amazing. I have an aunt in West Virginia and an uncle who lives in Cumberland, Md., but I have no idea about how my grandfather’s dog tag wound up in Virginia. I never knew him,” she said of her grandfather. “He had passed away before I was born.”

Gasper is 52. Her father, the late Lewis Milton Michael II, died in 1989. She has a brother, Lewis M. Michael III, and her son, the carpenter, is named Michael.

“We’re all very excited about getting my grandfather’s dog tag back,” Gasper said. “My mother wants to touch it but I just want to make a copy of it so I can have it.” She is considering giving it to her grandchild.

The gentleman who discovered the dog tag expressed joy that it was making it back to the soldier’s family. “Just tell them it’s from a friend,” he said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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