Huntingdon, Tenn. When tens of thousands of U.S. and Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, determined to turn the tide of World War II, Pvt. William Bernice Clark was among them. Just 20 years old, he died there, like thousands of his comrades.
"I remember the day the soldiers came and told his mother (that Clark had died)," his first cousin Lota Park said. "They never accepted it because there was no proof, no body."
Clark's remains were buried an ocean away. But there was more proof, lost in the sands of Omaha Beach, as precious as a stamped bit of metal could be.
A collector from England combing the beach for D-Day artifacts found it just five years ago, likely near the very spot where Clark was killed.
Clark's dog tag has blackened with age, but his name, identification number, religion (Protestant) and blood type (Type O) are all clearly visible. On Wednesday, 63 years to the day of his death, his family got it back.
"This feels like an ending," said Park, 79, who along with another cousin accepted the dog tag at a ceremony in the small town of Huntingdon, about 90 miles west of Nashville.
The British collector gave the dog tag to Bill Santora, a World War II buff from New Jersey, who turned it over to the National D-Day Memorial.
"It's in pretty remarkable condition, considering it was buried in the sand for 58 years," said National D-Day Memorial Foundation development director Jeff Fulgham, who presented the tag to Clark's family.
Santora said the dog tag was the most cherished piece in his World War II collection, but he was happy to give it up when the memorial officials told him it could be returned to his family.
"I always wondered who it was," Santora said. "I feel more connected to the soldier, a little connected to family and I think they are going to be happy to have this memento back."
The D-Day Memorial, based in Bedford, Va., keeps records of nearly every American and Allied soldier killed during the invasion, and it helped locate Clark's family in Huntingdon a couple months ago.
The family had only a few personal effects from Clark: two yellowing photos, a couple of letters during his short service and his Purple Heart. His remains were buried in a cemetery for American soldiers in France.
The dog tag has reconnected his family to the young soldier's life that was cut short.
"We were just like brother and sister," said first cousin, Ava Smothers, 84.
Relatives, community leaders and veterans gathered Wednesday in Huntingdon at a park that honors area soldiers who have died in war.
"I am reminded that this park is the place where the train carried Pvt. William Clark and other soldiers from Carroll County to war," Fulgham said.
Clark was one of more than 4,000 American and Allied soldiers killed during intense fighting on D-Day, a crucial turning point in the war. The D-Day Memorial is in Bedford, Va., because that town lost 19 soldiers, the highest per capita loss from any single town in the United States.
Clark belonged to Company E, 116th Regiment, 29th "Blue and Gray" Division.
"This was just such a nice thing to do for Bernie," Park said, calling him by his nickname.
Clark's name was also recently added to a plaque at the D-Day Memorial.
"When you stand in the middle of that plaza, in the middle of the memorial, you're surrounded by nearly 4,400 names," Fulgham said. "This is one more way we can remember him now that we have a special connection because we had his dog tag."
Lawrence, Kan., sculptor Jim Brothers created a series of bronze sculptures for the memorial.