Found on the beach: a Second World War dog tag

Dog tag found on the beach Photo courtesy Dawn Johnson

It was late in the season last year when Kristin Brown decided to walk the kilometre to Jewel Beach. Brown’s husband was stationed at a U.S. Coast Guard base on Kodiak Island off the southern coast of Alaska, and she loved collecting beach glass. Leaving the beach that October day, Brown noticed something silver poking up from the sand. She picked it up and saw a barely legible name, Willard Richerson, on what was clearly a dog tag, like those worn by the military. But what really struck her was the date: 8/42, the date of the soldier’s tetanus shot.

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Once home, she got out a toothbrush and cleaned off the tag to better read the name. From a military family herself, Brown knew her discovery would mean a lot to the family of its owner. She could discern enough for a decent Google search, which produced a short obituary that included the name of a wife. The wife’s obituary offered up more detail, and Brown enlisted some of her friends who were on Facebook to reach out to family members named in it. But then, she heard nothing.

Willard Richerson
Willard Richerson. Photo courtesy Dawn Johnson

Dawn Johnson, who lives in Bay Minette, Alabama, was the recipient of a Facebook message about the dog tag and realized that the tag had belonged to her grandfather. He’d been stationed on Kodiak Island during the Second World War, and one of his jobs was to patrol the beaches. But Johnson didn’t often check her Facebook messages, so it wasn’t until March 2020, almost six months after the message had been sent, that she read about the discovery. She responded, but now it was her turn to wait. “We’d given up hope,” she says. But then, on May 9, she got a reply. Kristin Brown still had the dog tag.

Willard Richerson
Willard Richerson. Photo courtesy Dawn Johnson

Brown mailed her find to Johnson, along with a note. Johnson’s father was delighted to receive the tag that had belonged to his dad—so delighted that he framed both the tag and the note, which now hangs on a wall in his home.

Terry Richerson, Willard's son
Terry Richerson, Willard’s son. Photo courtesy Dawn Johnson

“The chances of it being on that beach, 78 years later, is crazy,” says Dawn Johnson. “My dad couldn’t believe it. It’s such a treasure to him.”

You never know what you’ll find on the beach—or how valuable that find could be to someone.

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