A U.S. Marine Corps identification tag, which was lost during Word War II and found in a yam field on Saipan in 1981, was flown from the island to Massachusetts where it was finally returned to its owner, veteran Richard Caldwell Urie, now 86, over the weekend.
“The dog tag made the last leg of its journey and is back where it belongs!” assistant U.S. attorney Timothy E. Moran told Saipan Tribune yesterday via email.
Moran and his family handed the dog tag to Urie during lunch on Sunday (Monday on Saipan) at Urie’s retirement compound, Brooksby Village, in Peabody, Massachusetts.
Urie, who now uses a power chair to get around, was with his four daughters, two sons-in-law, and a friend when he received his dog tag.
“This is the most amazing thing to happen to me. When you reach an age of 86, you don’t expect any surprises. This is a very significant event in my life. It brings back many memories,” Urie told Saipan Tribune yesterday, also via email.
Urie doesn’t remember ever losing his dog tag but said that that is not so unusual, considering his age.
U.S. military soldiers while in the field are required to wear at all times identification tags or dog tags as they are informally called. Two identical tags are issued. In the event the soldier is killed, the second tag is collected, and the first remains with the body.
Urie said the return of his dog tag is a big event for his daughters and grandchildren, and a chance for them to learn about a time in his life that he has never really talked about.
“It was wonderful having Tim Moran return the dog tag, a chance to learn about the development of Saipan since the war,” he said.
He could hardly believe it that so many people took the time to make this happen. “I shall be eternally grateful to Mike Villagomez and Randy Kruid for their persistence,” Urie said.
Villagomez, a PE teacher at ChaCha Junior High, found the dog tag in 1981. Kruid, a U.S. special investigator deputy marshal assigned at the Saipan office, was the one who traced Urui through the Internet in November.
Villagomez and his wife, Erlinda, handed the dog tag in December to Moran, who was going back to Boston after a vacation on Saipan. Moran had agreed to take the dog tag on the final leg of its journey to Urie.
Moran said he and his family had a really wonderful time meeting Urie and his family.
“We did our best to answer their many questions about Saipan, which we obviously enjoyed much more than he did,” said Moran, who used to work as a federal prosecutor in the CNMI.
Moran said they also asked many questions about Urie’s experiences on Saipan and then in Japan during the war.
Moran said he is very grateful that Villagomez, who found the dog tag, included him “in this long, interesting story.”
“I think my daughters were also very fortunate to have the chance to participate in a very small way, in history happening,” he said.
The story of this dog tag’s long journey and how it finally traced its way to Urie is just amazing.
Villagomez was then 13 or 14 years old when he found the dog tag while clearing rocks in their dagu, or white yam farm, on Capital Hill in 1981.
Growing up on the island, Villagomez loved to explore the jungles where he would find war artifacts such as canteens, grenades, knives, and bombs.
“I would imagine what had happened in that particular place I was exploring,” the now 43-year-old teacher said.
One time, Villagomez found a Japanese dog tag together with some skeletal remains. He called the Japanese Consulate and had the remains brought back to Japan.
He found it strange that he was able to contact someone for the Japanese remains but has been unable to contact someone from the United States, considering that Saipan is a U.S. territory.
Years passed and Villagomez all but forgot about the dog tag he dug up at their farm. After he got married in 1994, his wife Erlinda came across an old pencil case container that he had kept while growing up. Inside it was the dog tag, which had the information: Richard Caldwell Urie. Ser#538322. T-8/43. By then, the dog tag had been in the pencil box for more than 10 years.
Last November, Erlinda saw a dog tag at Kruid’s office and told him that she has a dog tag that her husband had found years ago. Erlinda had held on to the dog tag, hoping that somebody could help her return it to the owner or his family. Kruid expressed interest in locating its owner or at the very least, family members.
On Nov. 21, 2011, a week after that encounter, Kruid Googled the name Urie and found about four to five persons named Richard Urie. When he narrowed down the search using the middle name Caldwell, he got one name and sent him an email, explaining that he had found a U.S. Marine dog tag on Saipan and that he was trying to find its owner or his family.
Kruid was surprised when Urie himself replied.
“I thought I was talking to a family member,” Kruid told Saipan Tribune. “It was an amazing experience.”
Kruid immediately informed Erlinda that the tag’s owner is alive and that he was able to communicate with him. Erlinda broke down in tears.
On Nov. 25, 2011, Villagomez sent his first email to Urie: “Mr. Urie, I am so happy to have finally found you. God bless you! All these years, I’ve wondered about the person who owned the tag.”
On Dec. 26, 2011, Urie wrote back to Villagomez and Kruid. “This story has taken on an exciting life of its own here at Brooksby Village, where I live,” Urie said. They then discussed arrangements for the return of the dog tag.
At that point, Erlinda, who used to work with Moran at the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Saipan, learned that Moran and his wife were on Saipan for the holidays. Knowing that the Moran family is from Boston, Villagomez and Erlinda asked him if he could help out. He said yes and they gave him the dog tag on Dec. 29, 2011.
Urie learned that Moran would be bringing the dog tag to the United States. He was so happy that on Jan. 1, 2012, he emailed the Villagomez couple, asking for more information about them and how the dog tag was found.
Urie said an in-house TV show at Brooksby has been organizing a publicity project for the dog tag. People, he said, have also been contacting local newspapers and TV stations in Boston for coverage. Getting back his dog tag after over 60 years “is truly an amazing story.”
Memories of war
Urie was born in the United States, but traces his family’s roots to Scotland. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943 when he was 19. He was discharged in 1946.
Urie was married in 1947 and they had four daughters. His wife died 12 years ago. He has seven grandchildren. Besides raising a family, he also finished college and law school. After the war, he eventually wound up in the business world.
Urie described his career in the Marine Corps as “mostly uneventful.”
He was a PFC radio operator attached to the Headquarters Company of the 2nd Marine Division stationed on Saipan.
“I joined the division after the Battle of Saipan. I participated in a number of operations in small islands north of Saipan to eliminate pockets of Japanese that had been left after the main operation,” he said in an email to Kruid.
Urie said the 2nd Marines participated in a diversionary part of the Battle of Okinawa off the southern coast and never did land.
“We returned to Saipan. One interesting fact is our camp area overlooked the waters between Saipan and Tinian. We watched the B29 bombers take off from Tinian over the bay,” he said.
As the runway on Tinian was not long enough, Urie said the bombers would take off over the cliff and start to sink toward the water.
“Most of them had enough power to rise up, but a few didn’t make it and crash boats were stationed there to rescue the crew,” he said.
They never did know whether these crews were all rescued or not.
After the Okinawa operation, Urie said they proceeded to train for the invasion of Japan, which really intensified after the Iwo Jima operation.
“We were loading ships in August of 1945 for the Invasion of Japan. When the atom bombs were dropped and the war ended, this continued because we were scheduled to be one of the Japan occupation divisions,” he said.
In early September of 1945 the 2nd Marine Division landed in Nagasaki for occupation duty.
“To be stationed in a city that had been part of the atom bombing was an awesome experience. Half of the city had been completely destroyed by the bomb. It really defies the written word,” said Urie.
Urie was part of the occupation forces until April 1946 and was discharged in May 1946.