WWII vet meets Frenchman who returned his dog tags

Willie Wilkins, World War II veteran, and Philippe Clerbout, who spent 10 years trying to find him to return his dogtags

August 8, 2013 1:25:15 PM PDT
Willie Wilkins, a Newark resident and WWII veteran, finally met the man who returned his long lost dog tags after 69 years.

Philippe Clerbout spent over 10 years trying to find Wilkins. He not only had the opportunity to meet Wilkins, but he also delivered medals and tokens of appreciation from the French town he saved during the war.

Clerbout, whose love for the U.S. Military for bringing his own father back home to France after he spent five years in a Nazi POW camp led him to search for Wilkins.

Wilkins, a South Ward resident, served in a U.S. Army Quartermaster Graves Registration unit in the invasion of Southern France in August 1944. During the campaign, he lost his dog tags, in the French town of Istres.

Anne-Marie Crespo was digging in her garden a dozen years ago in Istres when she found them. Clerbout, a friend, helped her contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Indianapolis, which in turn connected with the GI Go Fund and found that Mr. Wilkins was alive and still living in Newark.

Wilkins received his dog tags during a surprise ceremony at Newark City Hall on May 8th commemorating V-E Day. Today, Wilkins finally got to meet the man who searched a decade to find him.

"I was so honored to finally meet him," said Clerbout. "My father was always grateful to the U.S. Military all his life, and his love became mine. When I found these dog tags so long ago, I just wanted to know who the owner of them was. But thanks to the GI Go Fund and the people at the VA, we were able to find Mr. Wilkins alive. And now to be here and meet him myself after all this time, it just touches my heart."

Clerbout also presented Wilkins with the Auchy-les-Mines Town Medal in the city's Rotunda thanking him for what he and the U.S. Military had done for all of the citizens of France.