Lost Dog Tag Connects Two Central New York Men Who Served in World War II


ORISKANY FALLS, N.Y. (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY-TV) – Two sisters from Nebraska tell the story of how a lost dog tag has connected the stories of two men from Central New York who both served during World War II.

“My son was in the marine corps and learned how to survey and he was out surveying land next to where the Kearney Army Airbase was in World War II and he saw something in the dirt and so he showed us what it was and this was the dog tag that he found from 75 years ago,” said Val Gwin.

The dog tag belonged to Ralph Rigaud of Oriskany Falls who was a ball turret gunner in World War II. The two sisters, Val Gwin and Lisa Atchison, contacted Judy Engle from the Limestone Ridge Historical Society in Oriskany Falls, which revealed a surprising connection.

“But then when Judy wrote back to us and said that he had been in a battle over Germany on Jan. 11, 1944, we about had heart attacks because that’s the same day we thought the same battle that our father was in,” said Lisa Atchison.

The sisters then got to work looking through the declassified military information that their father, Syracuse native Bill Potter had saved and began to learn more about his connection to Ralph.  

“And we found him in tiny little print I’m like there’s Ralph, I found Ralph!,” said Val.

Val and Lisa discovered that Bill and Ralph were both stationed at Kearney Army Air Base in Nebraska and although they were in different squadrons and different planes, records show that they flew on three missions together.

“Which is a coincidence beyond belief because there would have been over 200,000 airmen go through that base when it was active and that the two of them both from New York both from there both on the same mission that my son would find this dog tag,” said Val.

Regardless of whether Ralph and their father shared any interactions other than in passing, Val and Lisa tell us that they feel a strong connection with Ralph. The sisters explained that after World War II many men did not talk about their war experiences. Through their research, they are able to tell the part of Ralph’s story that he was not able to tell.

“I think it was God-ordained and to tie it into Ralph and get his story, and what he went through and learned a lot more about Ralph, I mean we feel like we know Ralph,” said Val.

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