Share this article

print logo

Medals, dog tags of soldier killed in WWII returned to family

An inscribed wedding ring, found by a French farmer in his field.

A Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf clusters.

And the dog tags worn by 1st Lt. Harry F. Warner Jr. when he was shot down over France in 1944.

Finally, after almost 72 years, the personal effects and war medals of the World War II hero have come home, to his surviving family members in Amherst.

Over a casual brunch Sunday morning, a Vietnam veteran who had driven here from his Connecticut home with the personal effects returned them to the family of Warner, the airman shot down on June 7, 1944, while on a bombing mission with his 63rd Fighter Squadron.

“My mission is accomplished,” a beaming Doug Werner said, after delivering the box of valuables to the nephews and sister-of-law of Warner. “I’m just so happy. I’ve been looking forward to this for months. I brought them home, to their rightful place.”

Werner inherited the box containing the personal effects from his aunt, who was married to 1st Lt. Warner for only 10 months before his 1944 death. (It’s pure coincidence that their last names are so similar.) The box contained the wedding ring which a farmer had found in a field, Lt. Warner’s medals, his dog tags and a bracelet verifying his flight-academy graduation, all of which were returned to his aunt.

The box had been in Werner’s Connecticut basement for a while, before he decided to play amateur sleuth last fall. With the help of and other Internet sites, he found a 1925 census showing that Lt. Warner’s family lived in North Buffalo, and he had three siblings, including Dale S. Warner, a younger brother born in 1924.

Dale Warner died in 1986, leaving two young sons, Dale Jr. and Hans. Young Dale then was 3, while Hans was only 3 months old.

“We lost our father young, so he wasn’t there to tell the story about his brother and his service as well,” Dale Jr. explained. “This brings it all back. Seeing all these medals helps us realize what our family did in World War II.

“We’re just grateful that Doug took the time to drive here from Connecticut and return the medals to us. They could have ended up in a garbage can or an antique shop.”

“No way,” Werner replied.

Melissa Warner, the mother of Dale Jr. and Hans, noted that the three of them don’t have any living relatives remaining on the Warner side. So Werner’s gesture, bringing the artifacts to them in person, has helped connect the Warner family, through the generations.

“Doug Werner is bringing our family to life,” she said. “This is Hans’ and Dale’s uncle. This is part of their life, their history, where they came from. This was a brave young man who lost his life to save America.

“It’s real to us now,” she added.

Late Sunday morning, the Warners hosted their new friend from Connecticut in Dale Jr.’s and his wife Jessica’s Amherst home, with all the artifacts from Lt. Warner’s life – and death – spread out before them.

And Werner, the Vietnam veteran from Connecticut, wasn’t the only Googling sleuth in the crowd.

Hans Warner, the downed pilot’s nephew, put some photos and information about his uncle on the website two years ago. He then got a reply from the village of Liancourt Saint-Pierre, where the pilot was shot down.

“Do you know this man?” the note said. “We want to build a little monument for his memory.”

And so they did, holding a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of Lt. Warner’s death.

The family has photographs depicting that ceremony and the headstone, written in French, including the inscription “Tue dans le crash de son avion” (Killed in the crash of his plane).

The cherished artifacts, for the family to hold dear, link to an event that occurred before any of them was born.

“One day, when we have kids, we can say, ‘This is what our family did in World War II,’ ” Dale Jr. said.

Werner seemed almost as relieved as he was thrilled.

“These things are sacred to me,” he said. “Now I can rest at ease that they’re here.”