"This Is More Rewarding Than Anything He Could've Gotten"

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A 90-year-old New Jersey man thought his dog tags were gone forever after he lost them in France during World War II.

But Cpl. Willie Wilkins was reunited with the dog tags on Wednesday at a special ceremony that also marked the 68th anniversary of V-E Day.

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“This is an amazing story of a man of great courage, and great valor and great honor who served his nation,” Newark Mayor Cory Booker said.

Wilkins, a Newark native, lost the dog tags while serving in the Army’s Quartermaster Graves Registration Units in August 1944 in Southern France, where his job was to retrieve the dead bodies of American soldiers.

Anne-Marie Crespo found the dog tags in 2001 while digging near an olive tree in her backyard in France. She thought the soldier was dead, but a neighbor urged her to try to find its owner.

After nearly a decade of research, Crespo discovered Wilkins was alive and living in Newark.

Willie Wilkins holds the dog tags that he lost in World War II (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

Willie Wilkins holds the dog tags that he lost in World War II (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

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The GI GO Fund contacted Wilkins’ daughter, Carol, who arranged to have the dog tags returned after confirming her father had lost them in France.

“For him to lose his dog tags and for people to assume he’s among the dead for the last 68 years, the symbolism is incredible,” said GI GO Fund Executive Director Jack Fanous.

Carol Wilkins said it’s a miracle that her father got his dog tags back.

“This is more rewarding than anything he could’ve gotten,” she said.

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