Lige Robinson Jr. died in the 1944 Normandy invasion just two years after graduating from Wyandotte High School.
The sailor’s body came home from France in 1948.
His dog tag followed, finally, in November.
Today the small oval metal plate bearing Robinson’s name hangs framed in the home of his brother-in-law and niece.
Its discovery and delivery 67 years after Robinson’s death prompted a protracted emotional journey for Claude Cowan and Gloria Mooney, who negotiated the relic’s return over several months. They overcame not only language differences but also an apparent reluctance by one of the tag’s finders to give up the piece — until a magnanimous gesture broke the deadlock.
That relieved Cowan and Mooney, as both knew they needed to honor not only Robinson but also his younger sister. That’s whom the envelope — bearing a small French postmark and stamp — was addressed to when all this began last March.
One problem: Betty Agnes Cowan, wife to Cowan and mother to Mooney, had died in 2007.
The note to her, signed by a Marie Hoguet of Amfreville, described how she and a friend who cared for several graves at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, adjacent to Omaha Beach, were researching an identification tag recently recovered from the earth nearby in Ste. Mere Eglise.
She asked for more information about Robinson.
Mooney and Cowan, smelling a possible scam, went on high alert. Mooney called the State Department. But the email dialogue that soon began between Kansas City, Kan., and Amfreville continued throughout the year as both the French and American parties took the other’s measure.
Meanwhile, another concern nagged Cowan and Mooney.
Both knew theyhad
to see returned to Kansas the tag once worn by Robinson, known by family members as Junior.
They knew that if Betty Agnes were still alive, she would have allowed no debate about it.
“She would have been on the first plane to France to find this Marie and to get the dog tag back herself,” Mooney said. “She and Junior had been very close, and to have something of his, after all these years, well ”
“She was a fireball,” Cowan said.
“She always said dynamite comes in small packages,” added Mooney.
Hoguet, meanwhile, had her own priorities. As she explained in her emails, she and her friends — Sebastien and Paul — were equally passionate about the World War II materials they find on the French battlefields, working the ground with metal detectors and researching what they find online.
“We collect relics,” wrote Hoguet, who added that she had tracked down Betty Agnes Cowan’s name online after Robinson’s tag had been found.
She wanted details.
“Does Lige is buried in USA?” she wrote last April. “Do you have picture of Lige? All the information you have are welcome please.”
Information was no problem.
In recent years Cowan, a World War II Navy veteran, had corresponded with Robinson’s former executive officer, who had survived his ship’s sinking on July 2, 1944.
Robinson, Cowan had learned, had been one of nine crewmembers of the YMS-350 who died that day after a mine detonated underneath the 136-foot-long wooden minesweeper while it was clearing mines from the approach to Cherbourg, on the Normandy coast.
The ship had swept mines near Omaha Beach hours before the first Allied landings on June 6. But by late that month, Allied planners had grown more interested in Cherbourg after storms had ruined the artificial ports at the invasion beaches.
That’s what the YMS 350 was doing when it struck a German mine on July 2.
Robinson, an electrician’s mate, was 21 when he died. His family learned of his death by telegram. The devastating news proved especially so for Betty Agnes, Robinson’s younger sister and partner in mischief, Mooney said.
Ste. Mere Eglise, according to Hoguet, was the site of two temporary cemeteries where slain American service members were buried in the war’s latter days. In the years following V-E Day, some remains were permanently interred in the American cemetery while others were returned to the United States.
It’s likely, Mooney and Cowan now believe, that Robinson’s identification tag became lost during one of those transfers.
Today Robinson is buried in Highland Park Cemetery in Kansas City, Kan. Cemetery records document that Robinson was reinterred there in September 1948.
Meanwhile, spring turned to summer and then fall as Cowan and Mooney tried to cajole Hoguet to send the tag home to Kansas. Both sides invoked the American role in France’s liberation from Nazi Germany.
“Thank you for taking the time to care for the graves of our fallen soldiers,” Mooney wrote.
“We are very grateful for what the Americans soldiers did for liberate us,” Hoguet wrote.
Last summer, Cowan sent Hoguet a photograph of Robinson as well as details of his ship’s sinking.
Finally, on Nov. 2, a breakthrough:
“I write you today to tell you that I have Lige’s dog tag in my hand,” Hoguet wrote.
“We had to get angry with Paul and tell him that he is not a nice person the only solution was to buy the dog tag to him, that’s what we did. His parents went to his house and took the dog tag and I came to take it this afternoon.”
Hoguet and Sebastien, she added, had to pay Paul $50 for the tag.
It arrived at the Cowan home in a padded envelope in late November. Just before Christmas, Mooney’s brother Paul placed it in a frame with a photograph of Robinson.
Cowan brought the frame home on Christmas Day.
In the end, the Franco-American friendship prevailed. The French not only found the Robinson tag but also searched out the slain sailor’s family, negotiated the tag’s purchase and then mailed it to America.
“We are delighted to make them happy with the dog tag,” Hoguet wrote in a recent email to The Star.
Now, however, diplomacy demands an appropriate gesture.
Cowan and Mooney know this, and say they intend to send $50 to Hoguet that she either can keep or donate to a war memorial.
Meanwhile, the Wyandotte High School Class of 1942, of which both Cowan and Robinson were members, will gather for its 70th reunion in May.
“This will be a nice story to tell,” Cowan said.