May 19, 2012 - Larry Paleno, nephew of
Pfc. John B. Quinn, holds the dog tags and other memorabilia of his
uncle from his service in the Marine Corps during World War II. Just
last year, Quinn's family was reunited with his dog tag 66 years
after Quinn's death. The dog tag is just one way the Quinn family
will preserve the memory of their Marine brother. Photo by USMC
Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers
WASHINGTON (5/22/2012) — In the summer of 1945, a young man from
Brooklyn, N.Y., 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
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
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
“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 Donzio, brother Gerald Quinn,
nephew Larry Paleno and other family members were able to
thank Quinn in person for bringing their family back
“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.
By USMC Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers
Comment on this article