June 30, 2016

Mostly clear

Dogtags go from French farmland to Texan hands

Ralph E. Waite hands an American flag as a token of appreciation from the American Legion to third-grader Lenny Aydemir, who returned World War II-era dog tags to the family of the tags’ owner. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

A set of American World War II dog tags found in France was returned to the family of their owner Monday, thanks to the efforts of a third-grader.

Lenny Aydemir, 8, presented the dog tags that once belonged to veteran Jack B. Robbins to his great-granddaughter, Destany, 26, of Amarillo, Texas, and her family during an afternoon ceremony at Ralph E. Waite Elementary School in Montville Township.

Destany Robbins, left, great-granddaughter of Jack B. Robbins, receives his dog tags on behalf of the family Monday during a ceremony at Ralph E. Waite Elementary School in Montville Township. At right is Destany’s mother, Cheryl Robbins. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

During the assembly, Lenny gave a detailed presentation on Jack Robbins’ life. He described how he received the dog tags as a gift from his uncle, Christophe.

Lenny solved the mystery of the dog tags’ owner thanks to Internet research. Armed with only the information on the tags: a name, a serial number and “Wichita Falls, Texas,” Lenny located Aurora, Ill., historian Jackie Flannery, who is writing a book on the “Thunder Bums,” Robbins’ unit, the 396th Fighter Squadron.

Lenny learned that Robbins’ plane was shot down in 1944 by the Germans and hit the ground near St-Lo, in Normandy. He was helped by a French family, but captured after they were evacuated. Robbins spent 10 months in a German prison camp and returned to the U.S. in 1945. He died in 1969 in a fishing accident.

Flannery also located and brought together members of the Robbins family, contacting them through email and Facebook.

“I knew that this story was special,” Flannery said.

The dog tags were found in Tinqueux, France, by Vincent Granier, a friend of Lenny’s uncle, in the 1990s in a farm field. Lenny moved to Medina from France when he was in first grade, after his father, Ercan Aydemir, was assigned to Goodyear’s World Headquarters in Akron.

Ercan Aydemir said the goal of his son’s project was to locate the owner of the dog tags, but he also wanted Lenny to learn about how Americans helped liberate France during the war. He said he didn’t expect the story to receive national media attention, with stories on Fox News, Yahoo and the Huffington Post.

Ralph E. Waite, a WWII Army veteran himself and the elementary school’s namesake, presented Lenny with an American flag. Lenny also received a replica of the dog tags made by Whitey’s Army and Navy in Medina and a proclamation from Gov. John Kasich’s office.

“I feel really thankful,” Lenny said after the presentation.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.