June 28, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Waite Elementary student, 8, solves dog tag mystery

Lenny Aydemir, 8, a third-grader at Ralph E. Waite Elementary School in Medina, displays dog tags belonging to World War II airman Jack B. Robbins. (COURTESY PHOTO)

A Veterans Day presentation today at Ralph E. Waite Elementary School will cap off a remarkable story that wouldn’t have been told without the help of an 8-year-old boy.

The tale began in July, when Lenny Aydemir, a third-grader at Waite, was given a set of U.S. Army dog tags by his uncle, Christophe, who was visiting from France.

The uncle said a friend, Vincent Granier, had found the dog tags in a French farm field in Tinqueux in 1990.

The boy’s curiosity and penchant for research led him to solve a riddle that both his uncle and his friend had spent years trying to unravel.

The boy began searching the Internet using the information on the dog tags — Jack B. Robbins of Wichita Falls, Texas, and a serial number.

The online search turned up Jackie Flannery, a Chicago woman who was writing a book on “Thunder Bums” — the 368th Fighter Group that flew combat missions on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Flannery knew that Robbins was a member of the 368th who had been shot down on June 24, 1944, over St. Giles, France.

A family had aided and fed the injured Robbins, but he was captured by the Germans as he struggled to find his way to the Allied lines.

It was at a German holding station where Flannery believes Robbins lost his tags.

The French family who had helped Robbins tried for years to track him down. Uncle Christophe and his friend who found the dog tags had no better luck.
Flannery said she was surprised when she received an email from the boy.

“Anything associated with Jack online, my name comes up, and I thought someone was playing a joke on me,” she said. “I kept up with him and asked a lot of questions, then I found out he was 8, in third grade in Medina!”

Flannery said all the boy wanted to do was send the dog tags to the Robbins family. But Flannery reached out to the family and worked with Lenny’s father, Ercan Aydemir, and Waite Elementary School to make the presentation on Veterans Day.

The family of Robbins, who survived the war and died in a fishing accident in 1969, has branches in Texas and Colorado. Both groups will be represented at today’s presentation.

Robbins’ granddaughter, Destiny, 26, will receive the dog tags from Lenny in front of an audience that includes 40 or more military veteran family members of students.

Flannery said having the ceremony at Waite Elementary was especially appropriate: The school’s namesake, Ralph E. Waite, was in the Army and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. His unit received support from the 368th Fighter Group — Robbins’ outfit.

Aydemir said his son understands the significance of the occasion for Americans and the people of France.

The Aydemirs came to Medina two years ago because of the father’s work as an international representative for Goodyear Tire in Europe.

“He understands about World War II and what it means and how the Americans helped liberate France,” said Ercan, “He’s excited for (today) and to hand over the dog tags to the family members.”

Lenny said he enjoys history as a subject in school and said he plans to take on more projects like this one in the future.

“When we started building the presentation and finding information, I was really into that, and I really like working with my dad,” he said. “I want to find more dog tags in France, and find the families.”

Flannery said the story of the dog tags will feature prominently in her book.

“There wouldn’t be any story without Lenny,” she said. “This boy is fabulous.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.