WWII Purple Heart recipient reunited with his dogtags 69 years after service

Just a few days after Christmas, the Department of Veterans Affairs contacted a son of Alfred Cabral, Sr. The department had Cabral Sr.'s dogtags, now sandblasted but still mostly legible, found near Anzio, where he'd landed almost 70 years ago. Contact was made only three weeks shy of being 69 years to the day, Jan. 10, 1945, when Alfred had been wounded.

Domenico Cianfriglia had been walking the beach at Nettuno, Italy, a small town outside Anzio, when he came across the dogtags. He picked them up, brought them to a nearby cemetery for American soldiers, thinking the owner was deceased.

"Nettuno and the adjoining city of Anzio were where the beach landings of WWII’s Italian campaign took place. An Italian gentleman who found it brought it to the cemetery thinking perhaps it might belong to someone buried here," an e-mail between officials at the cemetery and the VA reads.

In fact, Alfred is alive. His son, Joe Cabral, writes, he stepped on a landmine returning from recon in the Vosges Mountains in a deep snow. "He was 100 yards from the road in a mine field and could see his troops but couldn’t get up," he said. His sergeant, "a true hero," picked him up and carried him all the way out of the mine field. At the hospital, amputation seemed inevitable, until "a doctor suggested trying a brand new drug, penicillin, and trying to save his leg. He received a shot every three hours for eight weeks and it worked."

He received the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. After his return, Alfred worked for his father's restaurant, until he switched careers: becoming a police officer and retiring as a chief. He'd never spoken of his time in war until 40 years later, when he wrote his daughter a letter she shared with her siblings.

"He wrote an itemized letter and he explained the whole war experience, right from graduating from high school ... to spending his birthday overseas with dates and locations and everything," Joe said. He even recounted his memories in a video for the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

"My dad’s in the nursing home for memory loss, dementia. His short-term memory has gotten horrific, but he remembers his war experience like it was yesterday. So this whole thing has been pretty emotional for him, and he's as proud as ever for everything he did everything he went through, always has been."

As for the dogtags, the Cabral sons received them and have shown them to their father but are planning a special ceremony, maybe even with a senator, to present them properly.

Cianfriglia, the Italian who found the relic, friended Joe on Facebook. Though they don't share a language, Cianfriglia was able to see the photos of Alfred and the dogtags, and the Cabrals mailed him a thank you letter.

"Not just to throw it in the trash but to add it to a personal collection -that was pretty nice,” Joe said.

Cianfriglia isn't the only connection the Cabrals have made. After reading about the dogtags in a local paper, Forster Boardman wrote in. While he hadn't known Alfred personally, he had been a captain in the same regiment.

"To have all this happen to one person - it’s just a small world," Joe said.