WWII soldier's dog tag found, returned home
March 28, 2016 at 10:42 p.m.
Updated March 28, 2016 at 6 a.m.
Hazel Priest still remembers the day a man came to her family's farm in Indiana to notify her parents that her older brother, Pfc. Thomas E. Davis, was killed in action on Okinawa Island.
"It's something you never forget," she said.
Before her older brother was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, he was a hardworking figure on the family farm.
"I spent many hours with Tom, watching him milk the cows and throw bales of hay," Priest said.
But for more than 70 years, the dog tag of Pfc. Davis was buried on another farm, more than 7,000 miles away on the Pacific island of Saipan.
Monday, Usan Kurata and Yukari Akatsuka, with the Japan-based nonprofit Kuentai-USA, brought the soldier's dog tag to his family.
"It's bittersweet," said Thomas Davis, the soldier's nephew. "We do mourn his death. But after all this time, he's brought us back together."
Family members and local veterans gathered at a home Monday on Walnut Avenue, where the dog tag was delivered. The family shared stories of the slender soldier and their surprise at being notified about the dog tag.
"I was just shocked that anything could survive in the soil for 70 years and still be legible," Davis said. "It's not just a historic artifact. It represents him."
Davis had six siblings, including Priest. Priest and another sister are the only surviving siblings.
Priest took the ring-sized blue jewelry box that contained the dog tag in her hands and began to weep. She showed the Japanese visitors her brother's photo and thanked them for making the long journey.
Davis was killed on Okinawa in April 1945. He is buried in a cemetery near Roachdale, Ind.
But a year before his death, Davis earned the Silver Star for risking his life to save an injured companion during the battle on Saipan, according to the Associated Press. It is believed his dog tag came off during the battle.
The nonprofit Kuentai-USA searches the Pacific Islands for remains of men and women killed in battle and works to identify them and reconnect them with their families.
Akatsuka said she has mixed feelings about bringing home personal artifacts to families in the U.S.
"To be honest, I know the families are so happy," she said. "But we are searching for the missing, and they're still there. It makes me want to hurry to go back to the island."
It is estimated that 43,000 war casualties are still missing in the South Pacific, Akatsuka said. The nonprofit began helping to identify American casualties three years ago and has identified the remains of five soldiers who served with the 27th Infantry Division, the unit Davis was serving with when he died.
The nonprofit's tag line is "As many and as quickly as possible."
"We just want to return them to the right place," Akatsuka said.