For Chuck Moore, his father had always been a faded photo of a smiling man in military dress, his cap cocked to one side and tie slightly askew.
Other than a few fond stories told at family gatherings, all that he had to remember him was a pair of Army Air Force wings and a Purple Heart medal that his father never had a chance to wear.
“I never knew my father,” said Moore, now 68. “There was never anything that made him tangible to me.”
That’s because Charles. H. Moore Sr. has been missing since Oct. 16, 1943, when he and the other crew members of the “Lucky Star,” a B-25D Mitchell, went down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast what is now Papua New Guinea.
His body has never been recovered. He has no grave, only a metal marker in a Columbia cemetery and his name inscribed on a memorial of World War II missing servicemen in Manila, Philippines. The Army declared him dead Jan. 22, 1946.
But Moore said his father has become more real, more tangible, every time his hands hold a small piece of metal that came to his home in Evans from halfway around the world on Christmas Day.
“You don’t know how these things are going to affect you,” Moore said, referring to the blackened, 2-inch long military dog tag stamped with his father’s name. “This was something you knew he wore, you knew he touched.”
The artifact was recovered in the 1980s by a New Guinea-native, Henry Mayer, who as a young man spent his spare time collecting relics from WWII left behind by servicemen who once fought the Japanese for possession of the island nation that lies north of Australia.
Part of Mayer’s collection ended up on PacificWrecks.org, a Web site that memorializes those airmen who went missing in the Pacific Theater, collecting information and connecting families with lost artifacts from more than a half-century ago.
“Basically no one would have cared about this tag, but we think these items have families who want them,” said Justin Taylan, a New York man who founded the charity organization behind PacificWrecks 18 years ago. “There’s been about a dozen we’ve been able to return, some to the veterans themselves.”
Moore’s wife, Laurie, went to the Web site after a family conversation prompted a late-night search for more information on her husband’s lost father.
“She got me out of bed at 2 a.m.,” Moore said, recalling she had a printed piece of paper that referred to the “mystery of Charlie Moore,” and a photo of the long lost dog tag.
“The only reason we have our story is because of the internet – modern technology,” Laurie Moore said.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to get in touch with Taylan, Moore’s son Seth took over the quest and with a little perseverance made a connection in November. Seth Moore successfully negotiated the dog tag’s return just in time for Christmas.
Laurie Moore said watching the father and son share the moment when the dog tag was revealed was almost too intimate to bear. More than a few tears were shed, Chuck Moore said.
“It was an overwhelming moment,” he said.
Chuck Moore said there is still someone else he would like to share the discovery with, his mother, Myrtle Porter of Columbia.
She’s aware the dog tags exists but has mixed emotions about revisiting that time when she became a young widow more than 60 years ago.
“She still hasn’t seen it,” he said. “We are waiting on her to tell us she’s ready.”