A Dog Tag’s Tale: USO Las Vegas Volunteer Reunites Vet with Dad’s Lost Tags from World War II

My name is Gene Dannan, and I volunteer at the USO Center at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas each Tuesday.

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After an exhaustive search, USO Las Vegas volunteer Gene Dannan was able to ship the decades-old dog tags – which had huge sentimental value – to their rightful owner on the other side of the country. Photo courtesy of Gene Dannan

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

Retired Marine Running Across the U.S. to Raise Money for Veterans

This Veterans Day, in honor of the men and women who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Marine Sergeant Brendan O’Toole (Ret.) will begin a 3,600-mile run in Oceanside, Calif.

Averaging 15 miles a day, O’Toole is pounding the pavement across 21 states in the hopes of raising $2 million to support the United States armed forces veterans, combat veterans, disabled veterans and their families.

Inspired by the classic movie “Forrest Gump”, O’Toole said he has always wanted to travel across the United States. But serving in the Marines forced him to put that dream on hold.

“When I retired from the Marines this year, I knew I still wanted to run across the country, but I wanted to dedicate [my run] to a cause higher than just myself and give back to the community,” he said.

During his service, O’Toole saw many of his Marine brothers struggle to reintegrate back into society after they served. One of O’Toole’s close friends had a difficult transition from the battlefield to home life and struggled with post traumatic stress.

Ultimately, this friend took his own life. O’Toole said that The Run for Veterans is for friends like his and other troops around the nation who need a support system and guidance during their transition.

All of the money raised by the Run for Veterans will be donated to the USO, Team Red White and Blue and Give An Hour. Each organization was chosen for the physical, mental and social support it provides to our troops. The USO is proud to be a part of the Run for Veterans’ inspiring mission.

The Run for Veterans welcomes all warriors, veterans, and civilians to run alongside O’Toole throughout the route, as a show of support for our servicemen and women.

The Run for Veterans may be coming to a city near you! Here are some of the main stops along O’Toole’s route:

  • Start: Oceanside, Calif.
  • Twentynine Palms, Calif.
  • Parker, Ariz.
  • Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Shreveport, La.
  • Jackson, Miss.
  • Birmingham, Ala.
  • Atlanta, Ga.
  • Columbia, G.a
  • Raleigh, N.C.
  • Richmond, Va.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Annapolis, Md.
  • Wilmington, Del.
  • Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Princeton, N.J.
  • New York, N.Y.
  • Providence, R.I.
  • End: Portland, Maine

To learn more about The Run for Veterans and O’Toole’s route, check out their Facebook page or visit their website at http://www.therunforveterans.org/. If you would like to support The Run for Veterans, donate here.

Good luck to Sgt. O’Toole and all who join The Run for Veterans! Your dedication to supporting our nation’s veterans is truly an inspiration.

Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

Marine Corps Trials Build More than Just a Team

More than 300 wounded, ill and injured Marines are currently competing in seven Paralympic sports at the 2nd Annual Marine Corps Trials in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The Marines are hunting for 50 of their best to represent them at the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs later this year.

Travis Greene, a Marine veteran, serves the ball during a semi-finals seated volleyball match at the Marine Corps Trials at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Feb. 19, 2012. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

The Corps won the Games for the last two years, beating out all other branches of the service.

“This year it’ll be no different,” said Col. Jay Krail, Executive Officer of Wounded Warrior Regiment. “The first year we didn’t even bring a complete team and we won. Now there’s more interest, and with more interest comes better athletes.

Krail realized right away the benefit of holding trials, and participation doubled this year.

“With trials we’re not only able to build our best team possible,” he said, “We’re also able to provide eight days of clinic where athletes get instruction from world-class coaches.”

The Marines even invited veteran athletes from seven allied countries to challenge them even more.

“We fight together and we recover together,” said Michael Wieger, Germany team coach.  “It’s good to get the experience from other countries, because things they are doing to recover are things we can do back home in Germany.”

Wieger was also impressed by the presence of USO San Diego, with more than 50 hard-working volunteers handing out protein bars, water, energy drinks and other snacks at each competition venue.

“Americans do it right. Troops are finding support by their families, by the communities, and volunteers who are doing this mostly on their own expense. That is a real good morale-booster. There are other countries who sure can learn from it.”

The trials conclude tomorrow, and the All-Marine team should be finalized and announced within a week. For results, information and photos, follow the Wounded Warrior Regiment on Facebook. – Joseph A. Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Retroactive Stop Loss Pay: The Marines Perspective

by Gary Gresham, Former Marine

Gresham encourages other Marines to claim the retroactive pay he did. (Photo courtesy of Gary Gresham)

After serving as a tactical network specialist for six and a half years in the Marines, I left the Corps in 2003. While speaking to a friend, another prior Marine, I found out about the Stop Loss Retroactive Payments that were being given to Armed Forces personnel. He told me that Marines who were held beyond their contract from 2001-2003 could apply for the payment. He gave me the link to the Stop Loss website so I could begin the process.

Once I had the link and was confident that I met the eligibility criteria, I was ready to go ahead and submit. I knew that if my friend had told me about it, it was legitimate. I was not hesitant and I didn’t have any doubts about the integrity of the Stop Loss payment Program.

First, I attempted to submit my claim online and found that I couldn’t proceed without my case ID. I called the Marine Corps Stop Loss Program office (1-877-242-2830) to see about getting my case ID to complete the submission. Instead, Staff Sgt. Lodovico took the time to walk me through the process. The best thing for my case was to fax the form and my DD214 over to the office. I had to battle with the fax machine, but finally my forms got through.

The next day, I received a call from the Stop Loss Program office to verify a few things on my form. My role in the process was complete. The office provided me with my case ID so that I could track it online and three weeks later my claim was completed and the money was deposited into my account.

For Marines who have not yet submitted a claim, I would suggest faxing it directly to the office in order to speed up the process and avoid the confusion online. For a six month period, I received more than $2,000. Going through the process of submitting a claim was definitely well worth the effort.

Gresham works for HP Enterprise Services, as a Navy Marine Corps Intranet Lead Site Engineer.  His comments are his own, and do not represent the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

Marine Embodies Esprit de Corps

Sgt. Kevin A. Aguilar, dispatching and licensing noncommissioned officer in charge for Headquarters and Service Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, conducts Marine Corps Martial Arts Program training with his Marines on a regular basis. (Photo by Cpl. Juan D. Alfonso)

September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month and in recognition of this we’ll be honoring those who serve, along with highlighting many of our great celebrity entertainers.

Several branches are also celebrating: the Army has created the website Hispanic Americans in the U.S. Army;  the Navy’s supports Hispanic Officer candidates through the Association of Naval Services OfficersMilitary Times chose LCDR Richard A. Angelet as 2010 Coast Guardsmen of the Year in recognition of his work on behalf of Hispanics service members; and the Air Force recently selected two winners of the 2010 National LATINA Symposium Distinguished Service Award.

Today we bring you a story from the Marines, as first reported by On the Frontlines: Every year, certain periods of time are set aside for the each branch of the armed services to honor the rich blend of cultures serving among their ranks. Cultural observances highlight the accomplishments of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen—past and present—who make a difference in the lives of those around them.

At Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, Marine Sergeant Kevin A. Aguilar – a Marine of Hispanic descent – is one of those service members currently making a difference in the lives of his troops. Read Aguilar’s story, “What a Sergeant of Marines Should Be,” on the official site of the U.S. Marines.

Sloan Gibson: Guest of Honor at the Sunset Parade

Sloan Gibson, USO President and CEO , second from left, watches the United States Marine Corps Sunset Parade on the grounds of the Iwo Jima War Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 3, 2010. The parade followed a reception held in Gibson's honor. (USO photo by Samantha L. Quigley)

On Nov. 10, 1954, the 179th birthday of the United States Marine Corps, a bronze monument modeled after the famous photo of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, was unveiled at the Arlington National Cemetery. President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial to all Marines who had died to keep their country free.

Since September 1956, marching and musical units from Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., have been paying tribute to those whose “Uncommon valor was a common virtue” by presenting Sunset Parades in the shadow of the 32-foot high figures of the United States Marine Corps War Memorial. – “History of the Sunset Parade

The USO was proud to have our President and CEO Sloan Gibson honored at this week’s Sunset Parade.  The parade is comprised of a one hour program that incorporates a precision drill by the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon and a music by “The Commandant’s Own”, The United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.

The Sunset Parade takes place every Tuesday during the summer at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington.  Click here for specific dates and times.  The parade is free and open to the public at no charge and attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets for viewing.  We hope to see you there soon!

Sloan Gibson, USO President and CEO, center, chats during a reception in his honor held at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery on August 3, 2010. The United States Marine Corps' Sunset Parade on the grounds of the Iwo Jima War Memorial in Washington, D.C., followed the reception. (USO photo by Samantha L. Quigley)

Sloan Gibson, USO President and CEO, center, salutes as members of the United States Marine Corps' Silent Drill Platoon file past for review during the Sunset Parade on the grounds of the Iwo Jima War Memorial on August 3, 2010. The parade followed a reception held in Gibson's honor at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. (USO photo by Samantha L. Quigley)