My name is Gene Dannan, and I volunteer at the USO Center at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas each Tuesday.
On June 12, fellow volunteer Denny Schaan and I were handed some military ID cards to copy and then shred for security reasons. Along with these ID cards were three sets of dog tags that had been turned into the airport’s lost-and-found office and then handed off to the USO. Denny handed me a metal ring that had two sets of dog tags on it, both from Marines. The older of the two tags was from World War II and dated June 1944. The name on the tag was Ferdinand Forst. The second tag did not have a date, but had the name Bruce J. Forst.
Schaan did a routine search of ancestry.com and found that Ferdinand Forst had died in 1986, but there was no additional information available.
From the moment that I received these tags, I felt there had to be a story connected to them. Before I left the USO Center, I got the go ahead from USO Las Vegas Programs Manager Marianne Wojciechowicz to take the tags home and try to find their owner.
First, I tried to locate Ferdinand Forst, but I didn’t have much luck other than the date of his death. Next, I started doing Internet searches on Bruce J. Forst. I immediately found entries for someone with the same name who lived in Huntington, N.Y., which is on Long Island.
The assessor’s office in Huntington gave me information about the property. Unfortunately, the Forsts’ home phone number was unlisted. I tried other routes to get the number, but kept coming up empty.
I tried calling the veterans’ cemetery in Huntington, looking for information on Ferdinand that would lead to Bruce. No luck there, either.
Running short on options, I called the Veterans Affairs office in Huntington. I explained who I was to the woman who answered the phone – Carol Rocco – and told her what I was trying to do. She was really helpful, making a few quick checks to confirm my information was accurate.
Rocco couldn’t believe I’d been able to locate the owner of the dog tags by just doing a few hours of work. She suggested I try sending a letter to Bruce at his listed address telling him about the dog tags. That idea had already crossed my mind, but I’d been hoping to speak with Bruce personally to let him know exactly who I was and what I was trying to do.
I asked Rocco if she would be kind enough to take my contact information and deliver it to the address. Realizing I was imposing on her time, I was surprised when she said she’d be happy to help me out.
Rocco’s office is about a mile from Bruce’s listed address. On the afternoon of June 14, she rang the doorbell, but no one was home. She left my contact information and a brief explanation of what I was trying to do in the mailbox. As it turns out, Bruce has been divorced from his wife for about a decade, but on Sunday, June 17 – at an annual Fathers Day get together – Bruce received my name, phone number and the rest of my story from his ex-wife. Around 12:30 p.m. Las Vegas time, I got a very excited voicemail from him. I called him back a few minutes later, got his home phone number, home address and a brief history of how and when the dog tags had been lost.
Bruce said he had been in McCarran Airport on April 20, 2011, heading back to his home in New York when he lost the dog tags. He thought he’d never see them again. Bruce said his tags dated to when he served in the Marine Corps on their championship baseball team in 1960 and 1961.
After talking to him for a few minutes, I found out that his father, Ferdinand, was a Marine who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. Ferdinand continued to serve until December 1945. He died on Super Bowl Sunday, January 26, 1986.
Bruce – also known as Scott R. Forst – has had an interesting life. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers Rookies and then joined the Marine Corps in 1957 and played on the All-Marine Corps baseball team at Camp LeJeune, N.C. In 1961 he played as a minor league catcher and outfielder in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ system as well as the San Francisco Giants’ winter team. Unfortunately, an injury ended his professional baseball career that year.
He became a detective with Suffolk County, N.Y., Police Department and was awarded several medals. Along with his sports and police service background he has also worked as a sports artist.
In the end, the dog tags ended up in his grateful hands. I feel very lucky that I was able to reunite him with a piece of family history.
–Gene Dannan, USO Las Vegas Volunteer