Posting this with permission from my friend, Marine Major John Ruffini
October 24, 2011
I recently took a trip to Guadalcanal. I was in between duty stations and due to circumstance and a generous gift; I was able to take the trip. While there, I obtained two dog Tags that had been around since the Second World War.
For those that don’t know, “Dog Tags” are those pieces of oval medal that are carried by members of the armed forces. Technically I think they are known as Identification tags or ID Tags, but they are commonly referred to as dog tags. They are worn around the neck in the event that tragedy strikes. The information on these tags can be used to identify a fallen Soldier, Sailor, Airmen or Marine.
When I left California for the trip, I had two dog tags with me. I had one of mine, and my wife’s grandfathers.
My wife’s grandfather was Elden D. Ireland. He was known as and went by “Dutch”. Dutch was a Marine Raider in WWII. His dog tags had visited the Island 69 years earlier When he landed on Tulagi Island on 7 August 1942. Within a few weeks, he was on the main Island of Guadalcanal where he was a participant in several key engagements. One particularly noteworthy was on Edson’s Bloody Ridge. It was on Bloody Ridge where he earned his Purple Heart medal and where he picked up his souvenirs from Guadalcanal. He had some Japanese shrapnel that he carried around in his body the rest of his life. He did not keep much from his time in the Marine Corps with the exception of a few photos, His purple heart, and one of his dog tags.
I had the opportunity to visit Guadalcanal on the 69th anniversary as a member of the US Marine Raider association delegation. The Raider Association has been giving scholarship money to Solomon Islanders via the Vousa Fund. We went there to see how the funds were being utilized and also see “what else could be done”. I am an active duty Marine, but this was not an official US Marine Corps trip, so I would have to fund this trip on my own. I received a generous gift from a family member that paid for the entire trip.
The trip was phenomenal. For anyone interested in Marine History, the Pacific War, or the US Involvement in World War Two, this would have been a great trip to be on. We met up with John Innes who is the premier expert on Guadalcanal. The Guadalcanal campaign was the turning point of the Pacific War. Every battle / campaign after the “Canal” was an allied Victory and a Japanese defeat. It wasn’t that way until this point. There were even several stages in the battle where the victory was in doubt.
One battle on Guadalcanal was the battle at Alligator creek. The victory was a solid US Marine win. When we visited this area, we met a group of native islanders. One of them could speak Pidgin English and we could converse in an ok manner. I showed him Dutch’s dog tag and he said that he had one. After some discussion, he sent someone to get it. When he brought it back and after a little bartering, I had in my possession an original WWII US Marine dog tag. That had been sitting around for decades. A few thoughts were going through my mind. Was he KIA, MIA, did he live through the war, is he still alive? I didn’t know, but was determined to find out.
I did find out, but it took a little doing. While in Guadalcanal, connectivity was sparse at best. I did get some messages through although it took some doing. I emailed a friend of mine who is the founder of USMilitariaforum.com. This is a site of US Military collectors dedicated to preserving US Military history through discussion, sharing information about artifacts and various military collectibles. He has a great database of military members at his fingertips. He emailed me some info on the Marine whose dog tags I had. He also had some information that stated that he had passed away in 1972. He obviously survived the war and lived for another 30 years. This info came within a week of me asking for some info.
Finding the dog tags their home: This took a little bit of doing. As soon as I returned from the trip I was moving to a new duty station. All my stuff was getting packed up, we moved across country Yucca Valley, California to Milton, Florida (Marine corps Base 29 palms to Naval Air Station Whiting Field). We had to wait for our house to finish being built, and then came the unpacking and setting up a new house hold. Finding out “the rest of the Story” was on hold. I received an email a few days ago about the Vousa fund from one of the association members that went on the trip with us. He added a “by the way, did you ever find anything out about the dog tags”. I immediately dug them out (took a little digging but did find them). Now it was research time. Using what info I had, I started digging around on the internet. I found a couple of people with the identical last name that lived in Southern Minnesota. This was the place where he passed away in 1972. I made a couple phone calls and left some messages. A day later I received a call back. The call I found out after a couple minutes conversation was the daughter in law of the Marine. Her Husband (the son of the Marine) had passed away several years ago, but she had and gave me the number of his daughter (Who lives in Alaska). I called her number this morning and left a message. A couple hours ago, she called back.
After a little conversation, I found out that her mom had served in the navy in WWII and was still alive. She is now 93 years old and in not in the best health. The daughter was in the process of doing a memorial web page about her parent’s service in the War. The dog tag will be shipped in the morning.
The Other Dog Tag: Yes, I obtained another dog tag on the trip. This one also came from a US Marine. I am still researching this guy and will post more when I find anything out. Here is what I can tell you. It was found at a construction site. One of the thatched huts was being put it on stilts on the side of the hill. I got it from one of the drivers who was taking us around. He also does handy work and was digging a hole for this construction site. He found the dog tag while at the site. I was showing the other dog tag I had obtained and he said he had one as well. I got the dog tag from him and he also took me to the area where he found it. It was found in the vicinity where Chesty Puller saw some action as well as the area where Mitchell Paige’s actions earned him the Medal of Honor. I have the same 4 questions: Was he KIA, MIA, did he live through the war, is he still alive?
Although these dog tags would be great items for my collection, these may very well be (and I hope will be) family treasures passed down for generations. I purposely left the names on the dog tags out of this story. I did it to keep a little anonymity for the families of these Marines / next of kin.
John P Ruffini