The last time Herman Church saw his military ID was during a visit to Evansville, Ind., in 1954. (Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)
It was 1954 when native East Tennessean Herman Church was at a function at a park in Evansville, Ind., when his wallet slipped out of his back pocket.
The pressing matter for Church was the two weeks’ worth of pay he had in the wallet, not any of his identification cards or other legal documents. After losing his father, Church, who had been working at a refrigerator factory, had been sending money back to his mother and two younger sisters to help out with family finances.
“I lost sleep over the money,” Church said.
His U.S. Marine Corps ID had been in the wallet as well, but because he had been discharged two years prior after serving in the Korean War, the card was no longer valid. Not expecting to ever see the wallet or the money again, Church went along his way and said he’d forgotten all about it.
Fast forward 59 years, and Church received a call in 2013 from an Evansville-based state trooper, who Church suspects was some kind of serviceman considerating how seriously he handled the situation, interrogating the man whose named matched up with the name on the ID card he was holding on the other end of the line.
The state trooper told Church an Air Force man had been fishing recently at a strip mine and had found Church’s missing USMC ID card. After having preserved the card by lamination and verifying Church’s rightful ownership, the state trooper sent the card back to him.
“The number of years it was missing, it’s amazing that someone would return it,” Church said.
Where the card was for the 59 years between Church’s ownership, he doesn’t know and says he probably never will, but was excited to secure the card again. It’s something that he thinks makes a great story for his grandchildren.
Church can’t wrap his head around how that trooper was able to locate him, saying through his efforts to reunite with his former Marine pals he’s put his own name into a search engine to see what comes up.
“It’s amazing when you go on the computer, enter your name and see all the people with same name as you,” 84-year-old Church said.
Just before the ID was returned to him last year, Church said he had a reunion with his fellow Marines. In recent years, they’d met in locations across the country, but with many of his pals suffering from different ailments, the ability to put together the reunions has been more difficult. With many of them in their 80s, Church said the number has continued to decline, but would relish a chance to show his ID to his fellow Marines.
He remembers enlisting in Johnson City in 1948 and heading to Nashville with his peers for induction. Church said he tries hard to link back up with people of his past, but can’t seem to find the people in his company.
“It’s amazing that you know all these people when you’re in, O’Briens and Popes, but you can’t find them after,” Church said.
Much like the state trooper who was able to link up with Church with nothing more than his ID, Church said he did have one instance where he was able to link up with a person from his past. As common as the name Dave Williams is, Church said he was able to find the man he was looking for because of a coincidence in California. The Dave Williams he contacted said he wasn’t the man Church was searching for but might know of another Dave Williams through his own military past. As it turned out, Church had struck gold in finding the man he was looking for, giving him reason to believe these coincidental connections can be made.
Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist