Facebook Instrumental In Returning WW1 Dogtag To The Family

Photo credit: Randolph Police Department
Photo credit: Randolph Police Department

A few weeks ago a man walked into the Randolph, Massachusetts’s police station, said Officer Kevin Aldred. He told police that he wanted to return a dog tag.

His partner on the desk who was talking to him said they would contact animal control. No, said the man, I think it is a military dog tag.

He was right. The tag was round with a name, Joseph E. Hughes, stamped into it reading: Pvt., M.G. CO., 101st INF. U.S.A.

Aldred used Google and located some pre-World War II dog tags that had some resemblance to the older one. The search was not straightforward; it took some time. He continued looking for the owner using social media.

Aldred spoke with the Fort Devens Museum, a Massachusetts organization run by civilians. A few hours later they emailed him a picture of Hughes, in addition to a card containing personal data.

He and his partner decided to use Facebook to spread the message about the dog tag and to post a photo of Hughes and the information card.

Facebook fans quickly reacted. Later that evening, a woman phoned the police and spoke with a ranked officer.

She emailed what she learned: the name of Hughes’s parents, his birthplace, his address in Brookline, Mass., his marriage after the war and becoming a father of three. There was more: she had traced Hughes son and learned he had married also. Using his wife’s obituary, she discovered the identities of their offspring.

One of the children named in the obituary was Joseph M. Hughes, a Walpole, Mass., resident and a retired firefighter. Aldred didn’t have any success locating the family, so he contacted a police officer in the community that he knew. That officer told him that he knew Joseph Hughes and had worked alongside him in times past.

The Walpole policeman visited the man’s residence. Hughes contacted Randolph police, ending the search.

And that is the story of how the identity tag found its way back to the family of a veteran.

The Patriot Ledger newspaper wrote that a man walking his dog found the tag, further reporting that Hughes’s grandfather, Joseph E. Hughes, fought in France in 1917, The Washington Post reported.

Aldred said he felt it important to pursue the research because the dog tag was more than just a lost item, it was personal. And he noted that if it were his grandfather’s tag, he’d want it as a personal item, or somewhere safe, or with his family.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE