The thundering engines of bombers and fighter planes began to die out in 1945 as the Second World War came to a close.
This was especially true in and around the small city of Ephrata, Washington, where a training base for the then-named United States Army Air Corps had been established nearby at the beginning of the conflict.
It was sunny on Monday morning in the same central Washington community when Bross Holland was walking back from a truck he had been working on through a gravel lot that used to be part of the air training base.
There, on the ground, something looked out of place in the eyes of the 44-year-old fleet technician for Grant County Public Utility Districts, who has a penchant for looking down when he walks.
Holland quickly knew what it was — a military dog tag.
“That thing had probably been laying on the ground for 79 years, or in the ground and somehow got stirred up,” Holland said.
It was then he knew he had to find the owner, but had no idea just how soon he would.
There are few details on the tag:
“RAY O SMALLWOOD
With this information to go off of, Holland began his search for the owner of the tags or a family member. Even with such few details, the search would be astoundingly short.
Rhonda Lentz, 74, of Harrisonburg, was on Facebook on Monday afternoon.
She said she received a short notification that read “Bross Holland asked a question” in the “All Things Harrisonburg, VA and Surrounding Areas” group on the social media website.
Not one to typically immediately click on such a notification, Lentz said she was drawn to do so in this case.
She read Holland’s post — how he had found a dog tag at an old U.S. Army Air Corps base in Washington state — and Lentz looked at the photograph attached.
“I just scrolled down a little bit,” Lentz said. “And there’s the dog tag and it’s my dad’s name on it.”
Ray Olin Smallwood was Lentz’s father. He died from cancer just six days short of his 40th birthday when Lentz was 14 years old. Lentz said she was incredibly close with her father and used to help take care of him while he battled the disease.
“When I saw [the dog tag], the tears just rolled down my cheeks,” she said.
Smallwood was born Nov. 8, 1920, in a small house on a parcel that is now in the Avalon Woods development in Harrisonburg. He was the youngest of four siblings and the only one who joined military service after the Second World War first broke out in 1939. Smallwood’s father, Henry, further proves the dog tag is her father’s, Lentz said, citing the presence of “H SMALLWOOD” on it.
Smallwood served for years in the European Theater of the war as ground personnel with the U.S. Army Air Corps and returned to Harrisonburg shortly after the war ended, according to Lentz.
Items such as Smallwood’s dog tag form a link between the present and days gone, said Penny Imeson, executive director of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society in Dayton.
“It’s so extraordinary how we can connect to the past that way and the emotional response we get,” she said.
Lentz said she had an indescribable feeling when first seeing the dog tag and realizing it’s her father’s.
“I was very, very, very close with my dad, so it just reinforces the bond that we had,” Lentz said.
Holland said he couldn’t believe how quickly he was able to connect with a family member of the owner of the long lost dog tag after he posted in the Facebook group.
“It probably wasn’t 30 seconds later that Mrs. Lentz answered and said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s my dad,’” Holland said.
And Holland quickly messaged Lentz to get her personal information to mail the dog tag, which he dropped off in the mail that very day headed straight for Lentz’s mailbox.
“It was just cool to know I played a part in giving her a memory that she’ll remember her dad by,” Holland said.
“I definitely didn’t do any of this for attention or anything. It just seemed like the right thing to do,” he said.
Lentz described the whole situation as “unbelievable.”
“To think that 80 years later, [the dog tag] was found and that the finder found me,” Lentz said. “The whole situation is, well, pretty unusual, and I guess it just goes to show that it was meant to be.”