FARMERVILLE, La. — Raymond Odom's journey to England began on the Queen Mary in the middle of World War II.
His dog tag finally completed its return trip on Feb. 2 in Farmerville when the former airman was presented with a piece of his history at the Arbor Rose Assisted Living Facility.
The journey started in May 2016 when Collin Daven, a groundsman from the Royal Air Force in Honington, England, passed a metal detector over the ground at the former RAF Knettishall and saw a piece of metal glimmering in the earth. When he saw the name of an airman, the search for Odom began.
"He (Fuller) got in touch with Cpl. Ed Stanley, an armorer at RAF Honington, to explain his findings, who then took it upon himself to research the history of the tag," Julie Brown, RAF Honington deputy meter officer, said in a U.S. Air Force report.
RAF Knettishall served as the home of the B-17 Flying Fortresses responsible for targeting naval installations, refineries and communication centers in key locations during WWII.
When Odom served, he was a member of the 388th bomb group stationed at the base. He joined the Army Air Force on Feb. 23, 1943, with a delayed enlistment until March 2. At Knettishall, Odom worked on the planes and loaded bombs for use in missions. The base was last active in 1957.
He said the job kept you own your feet all night and time away was at a minimum, but it was necessary to stop Adolf Hitler in his bid for world domination.
"I am very proud of the service I spent there," Odom said, "and the time I spent there. And I don't think there is any doubt what we did to Mr. Adolf Hitler ... He had his sights on conquering, on being the dictator of the world. Well, we turned that around."
As Stanley researched, he found Odom was still alive and living in the United States. He then reached out to Odom's daughter, Debbie Ball, via social media. It was Ball who asked if the dog tags could be sent back to her dad.
From the original 1944 caption: "More than 16,000 feet above the North Sea, these B-17 Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Army 8th Air Force are caught in the rays of the sub stratosphere Sunday Jan. 7, 1944."
Photo Credit: AP
Brown arranged for Senior Master Sgt. Brian Boisvert, public affairs superintendent with the 100th Air Refueling Wing, to officially hand over the tag to the U.S. Air Force. From there, it was shipped to Barksdale Air Force Base because of its proximity to Odom. It is also the home of the 8th Air Force under which the 388th bomb group served.
Ball said learning about the tags and sharing the information with her father served as an opening for her to learn more about his time in service, a subject he had usually remained silent about.
Odom's son, Chris Nolen, said he also never heard his father speak about the war as a young man. He said the time was hard for Odom as he would often see fighters off on missions and many of them would never return.
"It's amazing they found his dog tag after all this time," Nolen said. "I wish I would have known he lost them before because he used to get on to me for not keeping up with things."
From the original 1943 caption: "The Flying Fortress, Knockout Dropper, successfully completing, on Tuesday, November 16, a raid on Norway, and became the first B 17 to complete fifty missions with the British-based U.S. 8th Air Force, thus winning the unofficial race with Hells Angels, 47-time raider over enemy territory, and S for Sugar, which on November 16, made its 46th bombing run. One of the first Fortresses to arrive in England, Knockout Dropper has put in 300 combat hours and has dropped 225 thousand pounds of bombs on enemy occupied territory."
Photo Credit: AP
He said he looks forward to learning more about his father's time overseas now as the reunion has opened up other memories.
"Debbie asked if we could arrange for the dog tag to be presented back to her dad," Brown said. "That's when I contacted Senior Master Sgt. Brian Boisvert, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs superintendent, to officially hand over the dog tag to the U.S. Air Force."
Gary D. Joiner, chair and professor of history at LSU-Shreveport, said World War II veterans are now occupying the space Civil War veterans inhabited in the 1920s — few are left and their stories are invaluable for people who will listen.
"... With World War II veterans, every one of them, wherever they served and in whatever capacity they served, they are patriots," Joiner said.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Bussiere said Thursday's presentation carries special significance because it coincides with the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force and the 75th anniversary of the 8th Air Force.
"It is fitting and proper that today we start off our celebration with a presentation of Mr. Odom's dog tags from WWII," Bussiere said, "and it is a testament to what we are all about ... He was a founding member of the 8th Air Force. It's a small token of appreciation for great service. We at the 8th Air Force stand on the shoulder of giants who served before us in WWII. I can't tell you how much our young airmen today appreciate what you did for our nation in WWII, and I can't tell you how much we are proud to be here today."
Information from: The News-Star,