Mission to return lost dog tags to fallen soldiers' families
TEN months ago, Meleisha Tennent had no idea just how close she would become to six names printed on Second World War military dog tags.
The 28-year-old Rockhampton woman has been on a journey to return the lost tags to their families in the US ever since her father found them at a makeshift memorial in the Solomon Islands last year.
The memorial owner handed them over on the condition they be returned to their families, and that is exactly what Meleisha's mission has been since.
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She said it had been a hard journey, but regained inspiration last month after finishing the literary classic, The Water Diviner.
"I had contacted various US government departments as well as charities specifically set up to return dog tags with no major advice. I have spent months scouring birth and death records as well as military records and also contacting people on Ancestry.com. For six months I didn't know where else to look... I was a bit disheartened because I couldn't find anything," she said.
"Then three weeks ago I started looking again after inspiration from the book... it went from nothing to everything in a short period."
Meleisha has now identified the families of four out of six dog tags, and is waiting on confirmation from relatives of the remaining two. She said the story of how she located her first family was one that was particularly special to her.
In search for the family of Moses Turner, Meleisha turned to Facebook and messaged people with the same surname living in the same town. After locating an Emily Turner two weeks ago, she was disappointed to hear Emily was of no relation to Moses.
"I managed to stumble on an entry from one of my soldiers in the 1920 and 1930 census which showed that his race was African American. I immediately emailed Emily to find out if she knew of anyone in the town who shared her last name who was of African American descent," she said. "She emailed me back almost immediately advising me that 'you wouldn't believe it, but dad is here having dinner and I shared with him your story. He was a Vietnam vet and he fought with a soldier named Norman Turner who is the son of Moses' brother Jesse.
"In Emily's dad's excitement he had gotten into his car at 9pm and driven straight to Norman's house where he proceeded to tell Norman and Norman's sister my story. They both cried as did I when I found out I had found my first official family member."
Meleisha said she knew Norman would appreciate how significant the dog tag was because of his own time served in Vietnam.
She is currently running a GoFundMe page, to enable her to deliver the six dog tags to their American families in person, and visit "her guys".
"I am not really a destiny type person however everything seems to be falling into place in such a strange way," she said.
"I am drawn to visit their graves and I don't exactly know why; I have been so focused on these guys for so long, they are important to me."
Meleisha's GoFundMe page can be found here: gofundme.com/mel-smission.