Searching for soldiersDon Wagner is on a mission to return dog tags to their owners
From his mini-museum on Savannah Road, Don Wagner holds vigil most days, offering passers-by the chance to see his collection of memorabilia and hoping for leads to reunite scores of dog tags with their rightful owners.
His collection of dog tags -- metal military identification plates worn by people serving in the military -- includes IDs spanning from both World Wars and Vietnam to conflicts within the last 25 years.
Most recently, Wagner said his family found dog tags online that were pulled from the ground in Vietnam. He ordered all eight, had them sent directly from the Southeastern Asian country and added them to his collection, making for a grand total of 63 tags.
He has already tracked down the burial site of one of the soldiers in Vietnam, Wagner said, but next-of-kin have so far proved more elusive.
A lifelong collector, Wagner said this project, which he began in March, 2012, gives him great satisfaction.
"In 1942, I was 10 years old, and I collected dog tags..." he said. "It's personally rewarding to find the soldier or their family. I can spend all day here, just hoping somebody knows something."
So far been able to reunite four tags with families.
Sometimes reunions are the result of laborious research, but at other times, old-fashioned networking still plays a role as he works from his building, which he shares with 2 Dips ice cream shop.
Wagner said he plans to continue collecting and returning dog tags as long as he is able.
Even though he doesn't personally spend time on the computer, Wagner does research with the help of friends, family and visitors who have internet savvy, and he has developed a following at the mini-museum he created in the old garage.
Wagner's grand-daughter Jan Turansky runs the ice cream store and frequently stops by to see her grandfather. She said the family pitches in to help with the project when they can.
"My mom has been helping with the research online," she said. "People are always asking, 'Where's the old man next door?"
Wagner can be found at his mini-museum virtually the same hours as the ice cream store is open. His ever-growing collection includes military uniforms, police uniforms, license plates from all 50 states, antique novelties and vintage vending machines.
Everything in the collection has a story, he said. Admission to his museum is free, and the only things for sale on his side of the building are sweatshirts and reproductions.
Wagner is fascinated by the stories attached to each piece. He expects that behind each dog tag is an extraordinary tale, although he knows he may never be able to return all the tags to their owners or hear the stories.
The most recent identification plates he received were dug out of the ground in Vietnam and South Vietnam, he said. They may belong to soldiers who became prisoners of war, went missing in action or died on the field.
"I'll tell you, that's a tear-jerking experience to come," he said. "If you lost your husband and went on with your life and somebody comes back with their dog tags, is that going to help you or is that going to re-open the wounds? I hope it is going to help."
For more information or if you recognize a name on the list, Wagner advised interested parties to visit the mini-museum at 209 East Savannah Road, next to 2 Dips, seven days weekly, through the summer season.
Dog Tags in Don Wagner's possession:
(Name, followed by military branch and/or first 3 digits of serial number or Social Security number on tag. Wagner asks anyone who seeks to claim the tags to identify the missing digits.)I
Edgar F. Berry; returned March 5, 2012
Henry D. Boone 140
John J. Jack 238
James J. Walker 174
Walter A. Wayes 166
WWII, other wars and German concentration camp Stalag III
Beecher, Harold S. 182
Benson, Franklin B. 222
Betts, Willard Roy; returned, June 16, 2013
Brown, Thomas Jr. 916
Buazelli, Delerio 521
Buell, Jesse B. 147
Burrow, Kenneth L. 249
Chambers, Orsie B. 514
Cottman, Eugene E., Jr. 216
Damitz, William F. 313
Daniels, William R. AF135
DeHamm, Margerum B.J. 558
Dilks, Charles Heritage; 1943USN 245
Drakos, Nicholas Peter; 1945USN 194
Drain, Harry W. OR Warner H. 457
England, Thomas Milton
Griffin, C.L. 250
Hickman, Lloyd C. AF555
Howell, William C. US516
Johnson, John E. 254
Leonard, Peter G. 102
Luter, John S. III 138
Marvel, Walter D. 3/44 918USMC
McCabe, Robert G. 318
McComas, Campbell A. US52
Merva, Michael J. ER33
Miller, Ray A.; AF13
Morris, Charles E. NG211
Orona, Louis M. 075
Rank, John Edward USN817
Rapposelli, J.T. 336
Rider, Peter C. 209
Shelley, Raymond A. 201
Spece, Gerald G. RA33
Starks, Darlene; Master Sergent; AF088; Returned June 17, 2013
Stopinski, Robert D. 424
Summa, Kenneth J. 112
Todd, Charles Martin 459
Toth, Andrew Stephen 1943USN 817
Yager, Francis P 173
Yager, Matthew D. 131
Yates, Robert S. 446
Yeaples, Shawn P. 209
New dog tags from Vietnam
Bare, R.E. USMC 087
Cole, Bobby; U.S. Army 266; Burial site located, next-of-kin unreachable.
Cooper, William C. III AF1 474
Crutcher, William W. USMC 142
Goguen, J.L. USN B10
Roberson, B.L. USMC 210
Thomas, L. USMC 242
Whitaker, A.W. USMC 087