WWII dog tags unearthed by Hurricane Matthew, given to son

- For more than 70 years the dunes of South Ponte Vedra Beach held evidence of Frank Rogers' brief deployment to the area during World War II.

A set of dog tags, lost by the Marine Corps pilot amid the sand, remained tucked away until Hurricane Matthew's slow creep up Florida's coastline. As the waves and wind relentlessly pounded the shore, the dunes disappeared.

In their wake they left behind the steel military identification tags, nearly pristine and etched with the soldier's name: "Frank P. Mandeville Rogers."

That's where Barbara Galambos found them.

"I wasn't sure initially what I had, but I knew I had something cool," she said. "People lose everything out there. Either the ocean rips it away from them or they leave it on a blanket and it falls into the sand. It's just there until someone finds it — and it's rewarding to be able to give it back to them."

Armed with a metal detector and a scoop, Galambos searches the beach a couple of hours each week. In the month since Matthew, when the hurricane displaced approximately $120 million worth of sand in St. Johns County, she's found a couple of unusual things. By far the dog tags have been the most interesting.

Immediately she started digging for answers.

A quick Google search revealed Frank Rogers' son lived in South Carolina, where he owns a business as a certified public accountant. She reached out to Frank "Buzz" Rogers IV. When there was no immediate answer at his office, she left a voicemail — and waited.

A couple of days later the two made contact. Shortly after, Galambos mailed the dog tags the roughly 300 miles from the First Coast to South Carolina. There Rogers plans to frame the tags he never knew existed and never expected to find.

His father passed away about six years ago at 93, so Rogers says how the dog tags went missing will forever remain a mystery. But he's pieced together what he could.

When the country was drawn into World War II, his father, already a trained pilot, decided to enlist with the Marine Corps. He was sent to Corpus Christi, Texas, where he spent most of the war teaching others how to operate fighter planes.

Despite his talents as a pilot, he never made it overseas. In early 1945, Rogers' father flew to Green Cove Springs, where he learned how to land on naval aircraft carriers. The base no longer exists, but Rogers said his father's detailed flight logs place him there when the war ended.

Still, the presence at a base miles away from South Ponte Vedra doesn't explain the buried dog tags. For Rogers, though, it is enough. His father spent summers as a child and teenager at a house in Myrtle Beach. So the pilot probably made his way over to that slice of then-undeveloped land to enjoy the water.

"Dad never talked about missing dog tags, and I've heard all his war stories," Rogers said. "I don't know that it was a big enough event, losing them, or else he just didn't want to say how he lost them. I guess over 70 years they just kept getting covered and covered and covered, until they were way down in the sand dunes somewhere being protected from the elements."

Rogers, who said he's ever grateful to Galambos, calls the chances of this happening a once-in-a-blue-moon experience.

Galambos is just happy she could return to Rogers a piece of his father's legacy. It's not the first priceless possession she's found and returned. She said she's located owners of 28 rings and a fallen officer's bracelet.

"Being able to give back shines a better light on metal detecting," Galambos said. "We want the community to know we aren't the bad guys, even though we are looked at that way by archaeologists."

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