World War II veteran Irving Mann poses for a photo with his dog tag that was found and returned to him, in Rochester, N.Y. (David Duprey/AP)
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Irving Mann has been in business long enough to be skeptical of out-of-the-blue offers that seem too good to be true.
So the founder of Mann’s Jewelers in Rochester was cautious but intrigued when an email arrived at his store from a woman wondering if he could possibly be the Irving Mann whose military tag she said she’d found a day earlier in her barley field in France.
After all, the World War II veteran didn’t recall losing a dog tag after landing in Normandy with the 90th Infantry division on D-Day and fighting across Nazi-occupied France.
“It had to be false,” thought Mann, who’d recently celebrated his 88th birthday.
“You hear of so many scams going on, that somebody’s going to fake it, do some research and say, ‘I would be willing to return your dog tag. However, it will cost you X number of dollars.’”
A series of email exchanges between Mann’s daughter-in-law, Charlotte Mann, and the French woman, Sophie LaFollie, eventually convinced the Manns she was for real. For one thing, LaFollie relayed the serial number from the aluminum tag, a number Mann has never forgotten: 42023412.
“She specifically said, ‘I’m not interested in any kind of reward. The only thing I’m interested in is what happened to you that you would have lost your dog tag where I found it,’” Mann said.
Then the beat-up pendant arrived in the mail, leaving Mann to marvel at its journey and recall his own through the village near Rethel, France, where his outfit had dug in for a few days’ rest and traded Spam and cigarettes for fresh eggs with two young women in a farmhouse nearby.
“Any (doubting) thoughts I may have had disappeared immediately when I had the dog tag in my hand,” Mann said. LaFollie included a picture of her farmhouse, where her grandmother and aunt had lived during the war. “Memories came flooding back,” the veteran said, remembering how he’d scrambled those eggs in his steel helmet, stirring with his bayonet.
LaFollie, 36, told the family she spotted the glinting dog tag among the stalks in her barley field in Parny-Resson, a village next to Rethel on April 22. She knew from her family that American soldiers had been through during the war.
“I felt like a little girl finding a treasure,” LaFollie said in a statement relayed by the Manns. “It was really exciting to make such a find and then look for its owner.”
Online, she found a 2011 article from the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester describing Mann’s being named a knight of the French Legion of Honor, a gesture bestowed by the French government to thank the veterans who helped liberate France.
The newspaper story mentioned Mann’s Jewelers, leading LaFollie to the company’s website and email address.
“She found (the tag) and within a day was able to track down Irving Mann because of the Internet,” Charlotte Mann marveled.
“I have no memory of losing it at all. There was so much going on,” said Mann, whose combat career would end a few months later when he was hit in the leg with shrapnel in a battle crossing the Saar River. “I didn’t think about dog tags or anything else.”
He figures the tag, one of two he wore around his neck, may have slipped off its ring when he was digging his foxhole. Mann has added it to his other World War II mementos, including a Purple Heart he received belatedly in 2010.
“In 69 years, that field has been plowed, tilled, planted,” he said. “How many times did they turn that ground over and over again preparing it to grow? For my dog tag to show up after all that time, I consider that remarkable.”