With Help from the Scribe, a Lost Dog Tag Makes it Home

A dog tag found on a farm in England

A World War II-era dog tag found in Britain is making its way back to the states, concluding a decade-long search for the American soldier to whom it once belonged.

The tag, found nearly 10 years ago in a field by treasure hunter David Bailey, sat for several years in a drawer where Bailey had tossed it after previous efforts to locate the soldier were unsuccessful. But rummaging through the drawer two weeks ago, Bailey re-discovered the tag and gave the search another shot – this time with different results.

The tag’s modern journey began ten years ago, after Bailey approached the owner of Park Farm Griston in Norfolk, England, hoping the old farmer would approve of his scouring a nearby field with a metal detector. The old farmer saw no problem with that.

Bailey headed toward some derelict huts the old farmer later explained were used as living quarters by United States Air Force personnel from 1943 to 1945, specifically the 25th Bombardment Group and 3rd Strategic Air Depot.

Bailey swung his metal detector over the ground in front of the ruined huts.

He learned later that the American airmen used the field to played football and baseball during their precious downtime. Some shot rabbits and squirrels, which were used to supplement their meager rations. The locals complained about this, but the American officers would turn a blind eye.

Bailey’s discovery of bullet casings, and even a few live rounds, seemed to corroborate this. However, most of what he found that day were bits of rusty iron and other items of little interest.

As dusk descended over the English countryside, Bailey used that day’s last half hour of sunlight to search closer to the ruined huts. Moments later a very clear signal came through the headphones. He dug into the spot and discovered a dog tag belonging to James Crocker Jr. from Nashville, Tennessee.

“James must have missed his dog tag when he lost it,” says Bailey. “It was, of course, a very personal thing.”

Bailey shared his find with the old farmer, who invited him inside for tea. He shared with Bailey his memories of watching the American bombers take off each morning for air raids over Germany.

Understanding the sentimental value the tag would have for James Crocker or his family, Bailey promptly set out to find them. First, he sent a letter to Grace Crocker, James’s next of kin, to the Nashville address stamped on the tag.

Next he emailed a Nashville radio station for help, followed by a call to a Nashville newspaper to inquire about placing an advertisement to help locate the Crocker family.

These efforts were met with silence.

“I gave up and put in a drawer,” he says.

In time, the tag was again forgotten until earlier this month when Bailey found the tag while rummaging through the drawer. Again he felt an obligation to find the Crocker family.

“I would dearly love to be able to locate his family (or possibly even the airman himself if still around),” he wrote to the editor of his local newspaper. “I am convinced that someone in his family would really treasure it as a memento of a loved one from those terrible years of WWII.”

And then he emailed me.

“Hi. I live in U.K. I found a WW2 Dog-tag from an airman over here in 1944,” Bailey wrote. “He’s JAMES CROCKER from Nashville Tenn. His next of Kin was GRACE Crocker 2nd Avenue. S. Any relation to RAY in this article? I want to return the tag to the Family. If so please reply.”

I contacted Ray, a repo man I interviewed in 2010 while visiting Nashville. It seemed like a long shot, but Ray replied later that day to claim James as his uncle.

“His whole name is James Ruben Crocker, Jr.,” he explained, providing details not included in Bailey’s query to me, but corroborated by the stamp on the tag, which Ray hadn’t seen.

It was a fit!

Ray further explained that he didn’t know James well, as he died at 33 while roofing a house when Ray was just a boy. However, his widow is still alive, as are two of his daughters, one of whom lives in Nashville.

“I am sure she would like to have it,” Ray says of his 68-year-old cousin.

The happy ending comes as a relief to Bailey. A reporter for his local newspaper is writing an article about his push to return the tag to the Crocker family, a mission he undertook “in memory of all those brave guys who put their lives on the line during those tough, dark days of World War II.”

Like those air raids over Germany nearly 70 years ago, mission accomplished.

 

3 Comments

  1. Christine Glynn says:

    what a lovely story and well done David Bailey.

  2. Barbara Crocker Rodr says:

    What a lovely story David has written about my father and the return of his dogtag. My sister and I were children when my father died from a accident so we were thrilled to hear the story that David researched and found about our father.   Many thanks from, Barbara & Linda Crocker

  3. Simon Lerenfort says:

    Great to know it found its way back to his family.

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