The Story Behind Two American Dog Tags
Tollerton residents who attended the history group’s event entitled ‘The Treasure Trove’ back in 2019 may recall the story behind the American Paratrooper ID tags found in a Tollerton field and the group’s subsequent quest to reunite the tags with family members in USA. We have now decided to share that story more widely by posting the story on our website.
Background to the story
The two ID tags were found along with some other small metal objects in a Tollerton field by Graham Allen, a former butcher of Burnside Grove, whilst out with his metal detector. When Graham left the village in 2018 he kindly donated these items to the history group. How they came to be buried in this field remains a mystery and many of the items were badly corroded making identification difficult but the name on both of these ID tags were clear.
The history group knew little about ID tags, also known as dog tags, so we initially did some research about them. It appears that military identification tags came about during the Civil War because soldiers were afraid no one would be able to identify them if they died or were seriously injured. Their shape, size and the detail embossed on them evolved over time but by World War 2 they were considered an official part of the uniform issued.
It transpires that notched ID tags, as shown on the left, were only issued between the beginning of WW2 and c1964. Next of kin was only included on tags issued between 1 November 1941 and July 1943. Furthermore, dog tags showing first name, the initial of the middle name and then the family name (in this order) were only issued between July 1943 and March 1944. Those showing family name, first name and then the initial of the middle name (in that order) were issued between March 1944 and April 1946.Dog Tag 1 once belonged to Claude V Crooks. It gave far more information than dog tag 2 – his serial number, the date he had his last tetanus vaccination, his blood group, the name and location of next of kin and his religious preference. The location of his next of kin was given as Atlanta, USA so with this information we searched numerous international military websites and genealogy sites determined to find out more about Claude. It was amazing just how much information emerged partly because he had been killed in action and was posthumously awarded several medals. His connection with Tollerton was abundantly clear as he was part of the 507th Parachute Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, stationed at Tollerton Hall in 1944 prior to their action in Normandy.
Here is a summary of what we found out about Claude along with a photograph of this young man …
Claude Vaudry Crooks Jr was killed in action on 23 June, 1944, less than a month after he had left the Paratrooper’s camp at Tollerton. He died from head injuries sustained from artillery shell fragments.
Initially he was buried at Blosville Cemetery in Normandy but was later interred at West View Cemetery, Atlanta.
He was born 9 October 1920 in Atlanta, Georgia – the only son of Claude Vaudry Crooks (sen.), a pharmacist, and Ora Ray Crooks (nee Barnes).
Claude was not married and had just one sibling, a sister called Juanita.
He had attended Tech High School, High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Atlanta Junior College before enlisting on 24 February 1941 in Atlanta. He was 1st Sgt in the Georgia National Guard, the Field Artillery at Camp Blanding in Florida and spent his commission at Officer Candidate School and finally in an armoured division. He finished with the rank of 1st Lieutenant and volunteered for the paratroopers, joining Company I of the 507th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division.
His first venture overseas was in October 1943 and on 11 March 1944 his regiment was transported across the Irish Sea to Scotland and then by train to Nottingham, eventually arriving at the Tollerton Hall camp.
During Operation Neptune, on 6 June, 1944, Lt Crooks parachuted from his C47 Troop Transport plane. Operation Neptune was the initial assault stage of the broader Operation Overlord, the liberation of north-west Europe. The mission of the 82nd Division was to destroy vital German supply bridges and capture causeways leading inland across the flooded areas behind the Normandy beaches, where seaborne forces would land to gain control of roads and communications.
He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal, Croix De Guerre [French] European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star and Arrowhead, WW2 Victory Medal, WW2 Honorable Service Lapel Button, Parachute Badge, Combat Infantryman Badge/Bronze Star [sans V], Presidential Distinguished Unit Emblem.
During our research the history group decided that we should try to locate his family and attempt to return the dog tag to them.
Our quest to find Claude’s relatives …..
Focusing on international genealogy sites we found that both his parents had died some years ago. We were hopeful that his sister, Juanita, might still be alive but sadly found that she had died in 2000 so turned our attention to any children Juanita may have had as they would have been Claude’s nieces and nephews.
It transpires that Juanita had married twice. There were two daughters through her first marriage but it proved difficult to locate them so the focus then moved to any children from her second marriage. Eventually contact was made with one of Juanita’s step-sons from her second marriage but he was somewhat ‘dubious’ about receiving correspondence from an unknown history group in an unknown village, somewhere in Central England! However, the wife of this step-son offered to help us trace one of Juanita’s daughters. The dog tag was subsequently posted to her with an explanation of how we came to have the dog tag and some information about Tollerton where her uncle had been based prior to his military action in Normandy.
Claude’s niece was overjoyed at receiving the dog tag. This is one of the comments she made … “I cannot express how much this means. It has taken me a few days to process all this. What you and your group are doing is remarkable. WOW.”
His niece also told us a little more about Claude …..
“My mother was always concerned that her brother would be forgotten. All the information I have about Uncle Claude was through my mother. She had two photos of him in our living room so you saw him every time you walked in the front door. He and my mother were born and raised here in Atlanta, Georgia, the city where I live today. There was a seven years difference between Claude and my mother – he was born in 1920 and she in 1927. She said he always protected her, as he was her older brother. She didn’t call him by name. She always called him brother; he called her sister. I thought that was interesting.
Uncle Claude was attending the High Museum of Art School when he left for the war. Mother always said he was an artist and writer (not actor as I have read on the net). I can tell you that my mother and her father wanted to keep him in France after his death, but my grandmother was determined to bring him home. It took her a few years, but she was successful in getting him back to Atlanta to be buried.”
Dog Tag 2
We always knew finding out more about the owner of dog tag 2 and locating relatives might prove more difficult as this dog tag gave no information about his next of kin nor where they were located.
We knew his name was George B Hereford (in that order) so this specific tag must have been issued between July 1943 and March 1944. Furthermore, it had a ‘notch’ on the left hand side, a design only issued between the beginning of WW2 and c1964. With his name and serial number we eventually found his army enlistment record and this was very detailed, giving his year of birth (1922) and place of birth (Kentucky). There was every chance this was another American Paratrooper who had been based at Tollerton. Searches through international genealogy sites revealed that George’s middle name was Blair which distinguished him from other George Herefords. Sadly, we found that he had died in Florida in 1998, had married though his wife was no longer alive and that they had several children.
From here we established the names of those children and contacted one of the daughters. A response came back from a grand-daughter called Bri who clearly was very close to her grandfather and had taken much interest in his military life during WW2. Bri was able to tell us much more about George. She, like Claude Crooks’ niece, was delighted that we had traced George’s family and could not wait to receive the dog tag. One of her many comments was “OMG. This is incredible. Can’t wait to share this with everyone.”
Bri’s story that she shared with us …..
”My grandfather lived a harsh young life. His mother was very ill and his father worked in the coal mines in West Virginia. George had a 6th grade education and lived wild in the woods hunting squirrels to feed himself. It was the great depression here in the US and everyone was having a hard time surviving. In his teens he too had to work deep in the coal mines. WWII broke out and he enlisted right away. Around this time he met my red headed grandmother, Dorothy, and within 6 days they were married. He was then shipped off to England to train and become a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. My grandmother and he wrote feverishly back and forth as much as they could during the war. Their first daughter was born whilst he was fighting in France. In his letters he wrote how desperately he wanted to get back to her and their daughter.
George was caught by the German Army several times; I know on three times he escaped from them. On one occasion he was lined up with the other prisoners to be executed. He just started talking… he talked about the US and got to know the German soldier in charge. Turns out as a youth he was sent to America and went to college in Texas. George talked his way right out of being shot right then and there.
The second time he was caught, they gave the prisoners striped underwear and told them to bathe in the river. He swam downstream and ran off with another US soldier. On the third occasion he was parachuting with several other men into France. In the darkness, lost and terrified the pilot dropped them in the wrong location across enemy lines. They were all being shot at in the night sky. Once he landed, he and others ran and hid in some fields. They hid throughout the night and in the early morning hours they saw a farmhand on the land and asked for milk. The farmhand took the men into the main house to meet the owners of the property. – the Duvals. The family decided to hide the men in the sod shack on the property until they could get them back to their regiment by way of the French Underground.
The soldiers hid under boards in the ground in the sod shack for 30 days. At night they would sneak out and wash in the nearby creek. During the day the Duval family would sneak them food three times a day. They gave them rabbit meat and cider. My grandfather told me on countless occasions how good that cider was.
The Duvals acted cautiously so as not to raise suspicion in the nearby town (St Sever) that was now occupied. If the German Army found out, the Duval family feared execution of the entire village. Once they received word that US troops were close, they had to act fast. The Duvals dressed them in farm work clothing and they were ready to go. My grandfather, George, had a bracelet with his ID number engraved on it which he gave to the Duvals as a memento and headed off with other farmhands. Eventually George and the other US soldiers broke away and climbed a 100 foot cliff to reach a house where the French underground were waiting and then they were taken back to their division. Once they reached the fighting lines George and the other US soldiers were shipped back to Britain.
George made it out of WWII unscathed with memories of the Duval family always in his heart and on his mind. Ever since I was a young girl I heard of the Duvals and how much he loved their cider. My grandfather had a full life full of ups and downs. He came back to my grandmother and they had another five children. He then worked hard as a carpenter and became very skilled in building homes.
FIFTY YEARS after he left that bracelet with the Duval family he received a letter from them. They had tracked him down from the ID bracelet he left behind! They wrote back and forth for some years. In my 20s I wrote a letter to the Duvals in the hope that someone was still alive. I received a letter back in English from a British woman who lived right next door to George Duval. She invited me to stay with her and her husband and offered to translate for me. Overtime I made several trips to see them in France and they took me everywhere in Normandy. The Duvals had a grand ceremony for me in the village where they lived. The mayor was there along with the residents from several local villages.
Everyone has a story. This is mine and as much as I know about my beloved grandfather, George Hereford.
The history group was delighted the dog tags were both eventually reunited with a family member. We learnt a lot through our research and no longer were these two men merely a name embossed on a piece of metal. Sadly, so many of those Americans of 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Division, who left the Tollerton camp and parachuted into Normandy, never came back. Of the 2,004 men in the 507th PIR, who jumped on 6 June, 1944, only 700 returned to England 35 days later.