Casey Croucher/Recorder staff Sandy Baker, left, and Karen Hermance, right, hug after Baker gave Hermance her father's dog tags.
By CASEY CROUCHER
SCHENECTADY -- Eight years ago, Sandy Baker found a small treasure while garage sale hunting in the area, and for eight years, Baker has tried to reconnect the treasure with its family.
On Saturday, her wish came true at Schenectady VFW Post 1895.
"I was going through boxes of jewelry I had collected at garage sales eight years ago," Baker said, "and out popped a pair of old military dog tags."
She said her husband, Howard, was always finding unique trinkets when they went looking for collectibles and antiques, but this time, she had outdone him.
"I asked him that day if he had found any treasures. He said no, and I told him I had," she said.
She said she wanted to find the family of the dog tags' owner, Amsterdam native and World War II veteran Frank Strosz, so she could return a piece of their heritage to them, but she didn't know how to go about doing that.
So, for eight years Baker carried the stranger's dog tags with her back and forth from her Pattersonville home to her winter home in South Carolina.
In January, she posed the idea of tracking down Strosz's family to her nephew. Her nephew connected her to Matthew Swedick, an attorney in Albany who has a passion for World War II memorabilia. Swedick was able to track down Strosz's family in four hours, using the website www.ancestory.com.
"On the dog tags, I noticed the name of Frank Strosz's mother, Mary Strosz, and an address," Swedick said. "Using those pieces of information I was able to track back to the 1930s with the same address, and through connections on the website, I found [Strosz's] granddaughter, Jamie Wallace, through her wedding announcement."
He found contact information for Wallace and gave her a call.
"The call was very surprising," Wallace said. "I had no idea what to think of it at first, so I called my mother and told her."
Karen Hermance, Strosz's only daughter, said she was very happy when she heard the news. She talked to Baker and they scheduled a date for Saturday at the VFW to connect and exchange the dog tags.
"I had a garage sale about eight years ago, where I sold a lot of my mother and father's things," Hermance said. "Before I sold anything, I looked through boxes and made sure that none of my father's military memorabilia had been mixed in. I must have missed the dog tags somehow, and I was searching everywhere for them, but couldn't find them anywhere, so when we got the call that the dog tags were found, I was so relieved."
Hermance said her father was a member of the 101st Airborne Division, and served as a glider in the infantry for four campaigns.
"He suffered from shrapnel in both legs, and lost a lot of teeth during one of his campaigns," she said. "They made him go back out and fight after they took care of his injuries. It still amazes me."
Hermance said Saturday's meeting was very special for her.
"My father was very special to me," she said. "Getting this piece of him back has touched my heart and the hearts of my family members."
Swedick said it was an honor to reconnect the family to their father and grandfather.
"This is more than just history," he said. "This connects us to our past, our families. It keeps us closer together."
Baker's husband, Howard, also a military veteran, was touched by the reconnection as well.
"When you're first in the military service, there are two things you're taught to learn," Howard said. "You're taught to learn when to clean your weapon, which is always. If it's not clean and it's not in position, and it's more than a foot away, then you're in trouble.
"The second thing you're taught is that dog tags will always be on your person at all times, even if they annoy you in the shower or they clank together when you sleep," Howard continued. "They are very important."
Howard said he understands the importance of dog tags, and that's why the story of his family and Hermance's family being brought together through Strosz's dog tags was very special to him.
"I'm just so thrilled to be here today," he said, choking back tears.
Hermance and her family received Strosz's tags along with other gifts and enjoyed refreshments with their new friends, the Bakers, after the ceremony.