YORKVILLE — Frank Widay didn't realize he'd lost one of his dog tags during World War II until a man in Papua New Guinea found the rusted piece of metal and posted pictures of it on the Internet.
How Widay, Army technician fifth class, was reunited with his tag more than 60 years after completing his military service is a story about detective work, luck and the power of Google.
Justin Taylan of Hyde Park, just north of Poughkeepsie, manages the Web site where images of Widay's dog tag appeared. The site, called PacificWrecks.com, is devoted to World War II relics from the South Pacific.
Taylan, whose grandfather served in Papua New Guinea during the war, said he travels there once a year to search for pieces of sunken ships or crashed airplanes, dog tags and any other physical remnants of the war. He has established a network of contacts on the island that let him know through e-mail when they find relics.
Last fall, a resident of Popondetta, Papua New Guinea, came across Widay's tag. It had been lying on the ground, exposed to the elements since the early 1940s.
The resident turned the tag over to John Douglas, Taylan's friend who lives and works on the island. Douglas sent photos of the tag to Taylan, and he then posted them on PacificWrecks.com.
Widay's daughter, Eileen Strebing, found her dad's name on the site and contacted Taylan, who decided to hand-deliver Widay's tag rather than risk sending it through the mail. He made the 160-mile trip to Yorkville in December.
"When he handed him the dog tag, my father didn't even say anything," Strebing said. "He just stared and stared."
"I couldn't believe I lost it in the darn jungles over there," Widay said.
Taylan said it was the first time he was able to return dog tags directly to the veteran who had lost them.
Many World War II veterans are no longer alive, he said, so he often delivers tags to relatives.
"On one level, it's just a small piece of metal with numbers and letters punched into it," Taylan said. "But to one man, it's a priceless relic."
The day Taylan traveled to Yorkville, he interviewed Widay about his experiences in the war as Widay's wife, children and grandchildren listened.
Strebing said it was the first time she'd heard her father's war stories, because he never talks about his time in the military.
"Even the grandchildren were sitting there with their mouths open," Strebing said. "We just sat there, crying, saying, 'Our dad never told us this stuff.'"
Widay served in the 892nd Chemical Company, making and servicing chemical weapons. He handled napalm and white phosphorous, loading planes with the weapons. He survived a kamikaze attack and other close calls, he said. He was on the South Pacific island of Ie Shima when Japanese machine-gunfire killed journalist Ernie Pyle in April 1945.
Taylan said he had never heard a story quite like Widay's, which shows how important it is to talk to living veterans about their unique experiences.