In the summer of 1945, a young man with 6th Marine Division by the name of Pfc. John B. Quinn Jr., arrived on Okinawa, Japan to assist in the invasion during World War II. He was shot and killed 13 days later while rescuing a fellow Marine from a cave, but his body was never recovered. It was rumored his remains were sealed inside the cave because it was blown up to eliminate Japanese forces inside.
Sixty-six years later, John’s dog tags made it back into the hands of his family thanks to a little luck and the help of a fellow Marine.
In the summer of 1993, then 2nd Lt. Kerry J. Quinn was stationed on Okinawa aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Butler. The sergeant major of his unit returned from exploring the island with something he thought might be of interest to Quinn.
It was a dog tag, bearing the name of Pfc. John B. Quinn Jr., found outside an old World War II cave. Thinking it might be a relative he didn’t know about, Quinn held onto the dog tag.
“I guess I kept thinking maybe I had some uncle or relative I didn’t know was a Marine from years ago,” said Quinn, a retired major who now works with USMC Operations at Homeland Security Solutions, Inc. “Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought I could find who it belonged to.”
This mystery wouldn’t be resolved until 18 years later when Quinn’s interest in the dog tag was reawakened.
After two days of googling information about the name on the dog tag, Quinn stumbled upon the 6th MarDiv webpage.
“I kept digging around,” Quinn said. “It was when I found the Marine Division website the second day that I got my first lead.”
Quinn found a post on the page by John’s nephew, Larry Paleno, seeking information about his uncle. One evening, shortly after Hurricane Irene hit, Quinn called Paleno and told him he had his uncle’s dog tag.
“At first I couldn’t believe it was his dog tag,” Paleno said. “How could they find a dog tag if they couldn’t find his body? Nobody could believe that this happened after all these years. It’s been like 67 years since he’s left. They always knew he was in a cave and it was sealed. I can’t fathom how his dog tag survived.”
It became a reality for John’s family when Quinn mailed them a box with a flag and Quinn’s dog tags inside.
“It really shocked us,” Paleno said. “He had it for 18 years. We can’t believe, out of the blue, he decided to look for the family.”
Gerald Quinn was only seven years old when his older brother ‘Junior’ Quinn joined the Marine Corps voluntarily. Although John
was exempt from the draft because of his job at Norden Bombsight, a tachometric bombsight that aided bomber aircraft in the military, he wanted to fight alongside his brothers, Gerald said. Memories such as these have stayed with Gerald his entire life.
“My brother, Junior, never left me,” Gerald said. “He was always a part of me. We all loved him a lot.”
Receiving the long-lost dog tag is just one of many ways the family is keeping John’s memory alive. Gerald has photos of John posted in his garage. Paleno received one of John’s uniforms from a museum and has it displayed in his home. The family has held a memorial service and gatherings to remember John’s life. Now, the family has one more thing to add to the collection in John’s honor.
“I feel so close to my brother now,” Gerald said. “We’re thrilled to death. It really is for Junior.”
The finale of this joyous reunion came when Quinn finally met John’s family face-to-face May 18 at the National World War II Memorial in Washington. For the first time, John’s sister Audrey Ponzio, brother Gerald Quinn, nephew Larry Paleno and other family members were able to thank Quinn in person for bringing their family back together.
“I’m proud that I was able to be the conduit to take that dog tag from World War II and finally be able to pass it on to Quinn’s family,” Quinn said. “I’m so glad I kept it. I had a responsibility as a Marine to pass that back to the family.”
Now, whenever John’s family gets together, their fallen brother is never absent from the conversation. John’s sacrifice for his country and for his family will never be forgotten as this story is passed on to his nephews, nieces and generations to come, all thanks to one dog tag’s remarkable journey from the caves of Okinawa in World War II.