The nephew of a Beloit soldier who died in battle during World War II accepted his uncle’s military dog tags Friday afternoon at the Salina office of Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas.

Lt. James Garberg was able to return the dog tags, which he found earlier this year, to the next of kin of Private Ernest Childers Jr. with the help of the Mitchell County Historical Society and Marshall's office. Private Childers’ nephew, who is also named Ernest Childers, accepted the items on his family’s behalf.

“I think it’s an honor to get them back to where they belong,” he said.

Retired Lt. Col. Mike DePuglio, Garberg’s friend, told about the dog tags and Private Childers’ military service before giving the tags to Childers’ nephew.

DePuglio said Garberg, who is now 96, could not attend the event because it is difficult for him to travel and because doing so would bring back battlefield memories that he would rather forget.

The battle of Attu

Garberg was a platoon leader and Private Childers was a rifleman in a regiment that served in the Japanese theater of World War II.

DePuglio said soldiers initially were relieved when they learned that they were going to a desolate island at the tip of the Aleutian Chain in Alaska.

“The soldiers reasoned that since this was U.S. soil, they would be guarding the island,” he said. “They would be cold, but they would be safe.”

Instead, an intelligence officer informed the soldiers that six months earlier, a Japanese infantry battalion had captured the island of Attu.

“The War Department was concerned the Japanese would place long-range bombers on the island that could strike Alaska or even the West Coast,” DePuglio said. “Additionally, enemy troops on American soil was unacceptable.”

American forces landed in May 1943 and began moving inland on the cold, foggy and mountainous island.

Under fire

“Suddenly, the fog lifted and the second platoon immediately came under automatic and small weapons fire from entrenched Japanese positions,” DePuglio said. “Casualties ensued and the platoon fell back for cover.”

About 20 minutes later, the fog returned and Garberg and others returned to pull back the wounded. Garberg found Private Childers and realized he had died. Garberg took Childers' dog tags and removed his body from the battlefield.

A few days later, Garberg and his men assaulted several Japanese machine gun positions, and Garberg was severely wounded. DePuglio said Garberg spent the next three years recovering in Veterans Administration hospitals. Garberg later received the Distinguished Service Cross for his military service. Private Childers was awarded a Purple Heart after his death.

Archivist George Chapman of the Mitchell County Historical Society said the battle for Attu lasted 19 days and resulted in 549 American deaths from fighting and another 1,800 American deaths from difficult conditions, frostbite and disease. He said the battle of Attu was the only land battle of World War II fought on American soil.

Unfinished business

Earlier this year, Garberg was cleaning out his basement. As he started to review his military items from the war, he found a small leather pouch containing the dog tags of Private Ernest Childers.

“He called me and was very emotional and distraught,” DePuglio said. “He tried to remember back to 1943. He assumed all of Childers’ personal effects were returned to his family. But because of his own wounds and his struggle to survive, he had no way of knowing or checking.”

Garberg asked DePuglio to help him find Private Childers’ next of kin. DePuglio contacted Marshall's office, and his staff contacted the Mitchell County Historical Society. The historical society was able to locate Private Childers’ nephew, Ernest Childers, who farms wheat, milo and soybeans north of Esbon.

Honored to help

Nikki Meagher, federal case worker Marshall, said her office staff were humbled and honored by their role in helping return the dog tags.

DePuglio said Garberg apologized that it took 75 years for the dog tags to be returned.

“He wanted you to know he is deeply, deeply sorry that this has taken so long,” DePuglio said. “He wanted to relate to all of you that Childers was a superb soldier and very personable. He was a tough, athletic man who would never quit, a man who would do anything for the other men in his platoon.”

DePuglio said he was honored to help Garberg take care of one of his soldiers.

“As a retired soldier myself, I fully appreciate what he went through, and the guilt he felt not getting the dog tags back,” DePuglio said. “It’s a great honor. We take care of our own.”