A couple from the USA turned up ‘out of the blue’ in the Province last week to view a relative’s dogtag which had been the centre of a mystery at Ballykinlar Army Camp.
The dogtag belonging to World War Two US soldier William J Wolfe was found under a hut at the camp in Co Down in the 1990s. At the time attempts to trace the infantryman’s family failed.
The ID tag was donated to Northern Ireland War Memorial in 2017 and in late 2018 the Belfast museum began a fresh search for surviving relatives of William Wolfe, one of an estimated 300,000 US servicemen to pass through NI during the Second World War.
Museum manager Jenny Haslett said: “William Wolfe had been stationed at Ballykinlar as a 24-year-old.
“He had dropped his dogtag in Ballykinlar in 1943 and it lay there for around 50 years until someone found it when they were clearing out, it was underneath one of the huts.”
She continued: “We made an appeal on social media with the help of Friends of Down County Museum and Ballykinlar History Hut Project.
“Then we got the Chicago Tribune involved and the family saw it and made themselves known to us in less than 48 hours.
“They sent us a photograph of William as a young man and more information about his life.
“They said that although their father had passed away he would really have been tickled by the fact that his dogtag was in our museum.”
William’s parents were immigrants to Chicago from Ireland in the early 1900s, and when he was stationed at Ballykinlar prior to D-Day with the 5th US Infantry he made a special trip to find St Patrick’s grave in Downpatrick.
Northern Ireland War Memorial thought that was the end of the story until William’s son – also William – and his wife Ercelina, who are from Illinois, called the museum last Monday.
Jenny said: “We got a call out of the blue to say they were in Northern Ireland specifically to see the dogtag. We had no idea they were coming. It was a very nice surprise.
“They came to see us on Tuesday as we were closed on Monday for the bank holiday.
“We were delighted to welcome William and Ercelina to the museum and to provide them with the opportunity to hold the dogtag in their hands.”