BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — It was a homecoming about 70 years and nearly 4,000 miles in the making.
Dog tags belonging to a World War II veteran with family ties to West Michigan had been missing for decades, but last week they finally returned home after a man in the Netherlands found them years earlier.
"I thought no way… no way could this happen after all these years," said Herb Nichols, whose cousin Phil Nichols fought for the 101st Airborne Division back in WWII. While Nichols returned home to the Lansing area once the war ended, his lost dog tag remained overseas.
Herb Nichols says he received a call back in July from his grandson saying a fellow classmate had seen Phil's name on the internet. An article surfaced from a Lansing newspaper about a man in Holland trying to track down the tag's owner after finding it in a field overseas.
"I guess he had actually found it about seven years ago, and he'd actually found other dog tags and some of them went to a dead end, no survivors he could find," Nichols said. "So he hung onto these and thought 'I'm going to make a try' because it did say Lansing on the dog tag."
Herb says his cousin wasn't much for talking about his time in the war, holding most of his stories and experiences close to the belt. But even with 13 years separating them in age, Herb says he admired his cousin and looked up to him.
"Oh yeah we were very close," he said. "But think he went through enough bad stuff he wasn't interested in repeating it or talking about it."
Herb received the package from the Netherlands in the mail last week with his cousin's dog tag meticulously reconstructed and wrapped along with a letter from the man who found it.
"He said 'Dear Nichols family," Nichols read from the letter. "Hearby I will tell you something I recovered about fellow Nichols during the long surge..."
Along with the letter, the man named Piet van Schuppen from Holland sent a picture of himself and his wife, along with a picture of the exact location he'd found the tag.
"It was a thrill to hold it, to know Phil lost it and not too many people have handled it since then, just myself and probably fellow who found it," Herb said. "That really brought back memories again."
Nichols died in 2003 from pancreatic cancer, his cousin says the hardest part of getting the tags back home was knowing Phil couldn't be there to see it.
"I wondered many times when did he, how did he lose it you know? and was it at night, during the day," Herb said. "I just try to picture in my mind what that must have been like for him and all the other guys with him."
Herb says he and his wife plan to send pictures of Phil along with information of their family to the man in Holland who found the tags to show their thanks and appreciation.