Dog tags are traced to WWII training on outskirts of Bend

REDMOND — Sheryl Pierce thought she knew most of the stories of her father's time in World War II.

But she didn't know he'd trained in the desert just to the southeast of her Redmond home. And she certainly didn't expect one of her father's dog tags to be found on the side of a road she'd driven countless times.

Recently, she was reunited with the dog tag as part of a push by Bend Heroes Foundation President Dick Tobiason and retired Air Force veteran John Frye to connect these found treasures with owners, families and friends.

Earlier this year, Tobiason was approached by a friend at church, who told him that years ago he'd found 14 dog tags and didn't know what to do with them.

Tobiason offered to help find the owners, and enlisted Frye's help. Now they're in the process of investigating the names and addresses on the tags.

In all, 14 tags were found; two belonging to Sam Levine of Brooklyn, N.Y., were on a chain and discovered under 4 inches of dirt near Horse Butte. Twelve more tags were clipped together on a big, homemade paper clip, and found by the side of China Hat Road.

They belong to nine people — Levine, as well as men from all four corners of the U.S.: Minnesota and Louisiana, California and New York.

But why did they end up in the middle of the high desert? Turns out, there's a good reason.

In 1943, the Oregon Maneuver, the largest military training exercise in the Pacific Northwest, was held on more than 10,000 square miles in seven counties throughout Central and Eastern Oregon. The 91st, 96th and 104th infantry divisions gathered here, with nearby Camp Abbot, now Sunriver, serving as headquarters.

Between July and October, as many as 100,000 American troops flooded into the area, with red and blue forces battling across the high desert with tanks and planes and other equipment, using the Oregon Maneuver to prepare for battles in Europe and the Pacific. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Oregon Maneuver.

"It had a huge impact on Bend," Tobiason said, noting The Bulletin covered the movements of the red and blue forces throughout the training.

When the maneuver was completed, the 91st Infantry Division was sent to North Africa, then to combat in Italy, while the 96th Infantry Division participated in the invasion of the Philippines and fought at Okinawa. The 104th Infantry Division fought in France.

Frye has conducted research on dog tag history as part of his interest in returning them to their rightful owners. He found that between 1938 and 1941 dog tags featured a blood type, a tetanus shot date, and a religious identifier: C for Catholic, H for Hebrew, and P for Protestant. They also featured a next of kin and accompanying address.

But, Frye said, in the middle of 1943, the U.S. apparently decided to remove next-of-kin contact information from the dog tags out of concern that, if the soldier was taken as a prisoner of war, the information could be used to harass the family or threaten the soldier.

Frye and Tobiason believe the troops likely were asked to trade in the dog tags for new ones and instead dropped them on the ground. Frye wonders if Levine might have forgotten to put his back on after shaving or somehow lost them during the maneuver.

Tobiason got in touch with people associated with the units, and surmised that if they were all found together, they likely were all from the same division. His theory: the 104th. But that's not entirely correct. Victor S. Bishop, Pierce's father, was in the 96th division.

A representative with the 104th is going through a roster that, at its largest, had 15,000 men on it. Tobiason hopes they'll find corresponding names and possibly addresses or contact information for the men or their families.

The 104th was based out of Camp Adair, near Corvallis.

"If we can't find a home for all of those, maybe Camp Adair would make a nice home for them," Tobiason said.

Tobiason and Frye tracked down Pierce through representatives of the 104th division, who connected the dots through obituaries.

Bishop, Pierce's father, entered the Army when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He completed basic training at Camp Adair, near Corvallis, and was a member of the 96th Infantry Division.

"What this was, it filled a gap," she said of getting her father's dog tag. "I thought I knew all the story, but not this piece."

She said Tobiason called her, and initially she was skeptical, especially because her father had never mentioned he'd spent time training in Central Oregon.

"We drove across that desert I don't know how many times," she said. "We drove across that desert and never one word."

Bishop was from Central Cove, Idaho, and was 59 when he died in 1970. He worked as a teacher after the war.

"It's very special to me," she said of the recovered dog tag. "It completes the circle of life, and brings so many memories."

At a brief ceremony, Pierce wore the dog tag her father had carried while overseas fighting in the war. She added the recovered tag to the chain.

"This was left here 70 years ago," Tobiason told Pierce. "This proves that if we can find an artifact, we can find someone it belongs to.

"Historical stuff should not be buried."

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