Buck Bertram doesn't remember wearing a shirt, let alone a dog tag, while he was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II.
So, it's no surprise the longtime Brookfield resident didn't even realize he had lost his tag on a sandy beach on the island of Saipan until it found its way back to him - some 65 years later.
The 87-year-old Bertram, who enlisted in the Navy in 1943, spent the first part of his tour of duty hauling supplies and Marines ashore in a Higgins boat.
On the blown-out deck of one of those boats, Marine Fred Manke found Bertram's tag in 1945, 14 months after U.S. forces secured Saipan. He took them back to his native Minnesota after the war.
"He didn't know if the guy was alive or killed in the boat," said Rick Manke, Fred's son.
Rick recalls his father talking about the tag throughout the years. The story piqued the interest of his daughter-in-law, Kathleen Burnett, who found Bertram's address and wrote to him.
"I thought it was a scam," Bertram said. "I don't even remember wearing dog tags when I was in the South Pacific."
But it was no scam, and Bertram and his wife, Sharon, recently went to Lake Crystal, Minn., to meet the Mankes. The Mankes hosted a brunch in honor of Bertram at the local American Legion post, and more than 50 people packed the room.
"His relatives and friends drove hundreds of miles to meet me," Bertram said. "Half the people were crying."
"It was great to find out that (Buck) was around and this close to us all those years," Rick Manke added. "I thought it was great. Buck is really a nice guy."
Despite all the fanfare, Bertram said getting his tag back really didn't mean too much to him. Meeting the Mankes, however, was an experience of a lifetime.
"I don't even remember wearing the blasted thing," he said. "But those people are the most beautiful people in the world. You could move in with them like they were your relatives."
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