Ferdinand Mueller’s dog tag was dug up in south Auckland and returned to his family nearly 80 years after it went missing.
Buried in the dirt in south Auckland for more than half a century, a dog tag belonging to a United States soldier has been reunited with his family nearly 80 years after it went missing.
Auckland military memorabilia collector Peter Auckram spotted the tag, which noted F.P Mueller’s blood type, religion and wife’s name, for sale on TradeMe.
It had been dug up near the former Cambria Park military camp in Papatoetoe by someone with a metal detector “about 20 years ago”, and passed on to the vendor when the original discoverer died.
Auckram, knowing the importance it might hold for someone, set about finding the family of the soldier it belonged to, bought it and gifted it to them.
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Mueller’s son, Kurt, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia was “quite astounded” when he was contacted by a man from New Zealand, telling him he wanted to return something belonging to his father, Colonel Ferdinand P. Mueller.
Auckram, who wanted nothing in return, said his joy came from learning about the owner of the dog tag and sharing his story.
“Imagine if someone came to me 100 years later and said ‘Hey, we’ve got this relic from your dad or grandad,’” he said.
“That would be fantastic.”
‘Dude’, as Mueller was known, had quite the tale to his name.
In July 1941, he was moved to Hawaii – only five months later he would be at the epicentre of the pivotal moment that pushed the US into World War II.
On December 6, the night before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, he and his wife Dot headed out for a picnic and swim, getting back just before dawn.
It wasn’t long before they were woken by Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zeros flying low overhead towards Wheeler Field, directly towards the US main air force base.
Springing into action, Mueller and a fellow officer broke into a nearby armoury, took a 30-calibre machine gun, and climbed onto a nearby roof where they started shooting at the enemy planes.
Tom Heslip, 99, fought in World War II with the 23rd battalion as a 20-year-old. He was injured by enemy fire twice and invalided home on the second occasion, aged 21, when his calf muscle was blown apart.
The tracer fire from their gun eventually gave them away, forcing them to leap from the roof as enemy planes banked around and took aim.
Not long after, Mueller was promoted to captain and sent to Guadalcanal where, after being knocked out by sniper fire ricocheting off his helmet, he helped capture the island.
He ended up stationed in Auckland for training in 1943, where his dog tag would go missing – only to turn up 80 years later.
Mueller was eventually promoted to colonel and retired from the army in 1963.
Writing about the return of his father’s dog tag, Kurt Mueller said he could “only imagine what Dad would have said if he was still alive today”.
“We would have loved to hear his story about being in New Zealand, and what caused him to lose his dog tag.”