ORISKANY FALLS, N.Y. (WUTR) – Two sisters from Nebraska tell the story of how a lost dog tag has connected the stories of two men from Central New York who both served during World War II.
“My son was in the Marine Corps. and learned how to survey, and he was out surveying land next to where the Kearney Army Airbase was in World War II. And he saw something in the dirt, and so he showed us what it was,” said Val Gwin. “This was the dog tag that he found from 75 years ago.”
The dog tag belonged to a man from Oriskany Falls, a ball turret gunner in World War II named Ralph Rigaud. Gwin and her sister, Lisa Atchison, contacted Judy Engle from the Limestone Ridge Historical Society in Oriskany Falls, who revealed a surprising connection.
“When Judy wrote back to us and said that he had been in a battle over Germany on January 11, 1944, we about had heart attacks,” said Atchison. “That’s the same day—we thought, the same battle—that our father was in!”
The sisters then got to work looking through the declassified military information that their father, Syracuse native Bill Potter, had saved. They began to learn more about his connection to Ralph.
“We found him in tiny little print,” said Gwin. “I’m like, ‘There’s Ralph! I found Ralph!'”
Val and Lisa discovered that Bill and Ralph were both stationed at Kearney Army Air Base in Nebraska. Although they were in different squadrons and on different planes, records show that they flew on three missions together.
“Which is a coincidence beyond belief!” said Gwin. “There would have been over 200,000 airmen go through that base when it was active. And that the two of them—both from New York, both from there, both on the same mission. That my son would find this dog tag!”
Regardless of whether Ralph and their father shared any interactions other than in passing, Gwin and Atchison say they feel a strong connection to him. The sisters explained that after World War II many men did not talk about their war experiences. Yet, through their research, they are able to tell the part of Ralph’s story that he could not.
“It was God-ordained,” Gwin said. “To tie it into Ralph and get his story, and what he went through, and learned a lot more about Ralph—I mean, we feel like we know Ralph!”
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