- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

SULLIVAN, Ind. (AP) - Terre Haute’s Joe Browning had a mystery in an “old time fruit cake tin,” with the only clue to the riddle coming from the word “Shelburn” printed on dog tags for a Claude H. Barnes.

Because of that Sullivan County location, Browning reached out to the Sullivan Daily Times by email to find Barnes.

“That was the first place I had to look,” Browning said by phone.

“My father was an avid treasure hunter and went metal detecting in parks all over the area,” Browning wrote in his initial email. “Some 40 years ago, he dug up a World War II Army dog tag.

“I really would like to find a family member, or even Claude if he were alive, and give them his dog tag,” Browning’s email concluded. “My father was in the Navy in WWII and I know if someone had one of his tags, I would want it.”

The only information he could find on the Internet was Barnes’ Army enlistment records, which showed Barnes enlisted in Evansville on Feb. 20, 1943.

It turned out Barnes, after leaving the service following the war, spent most of his life not far from Browning’s family in north Terre Haute.

“I know when my dad went into the service he lived in Hymera,” said Barnes’ daughter Nancy Archer, who also lives in north Terre Haute. “He grew up in Sullivan County … (and) went to Hymera school.”

When contacted by the Times, Archer’s initial interest was in how the paper got her phone number and found her.

That came about through some Internet research and the help of Sullivan County Public Library genealogist and Sullivan County Historian Donna Adams.

The ancestry website familytreenow.com provided a Fort Harrison Road address in Terre Haute and a phone number for Barnes. However, the phone number had been disconnected.

A second website geni.com showed that Barnes had died in 1991 and his wife Dorothy Maxine Barnes died in 1999, but it did not provide names for any living children. Barnes’ birth date matched up with the enlistment records that Browning found.

Barnes’ obituary did not appear in the Times in 1991. That’s when Adams came to the rescue by finding obituaries for both Barnes and his wife in the Vigo County Public Library’s system, which she forwarded to the Times, leading to locating Archer.

Browning said the dog tags likely were in his father’s possession for years.

“He probably found that dog tag, I would probably say 42 years ago,” he noted. “It would probably have to be at Fowler Park, Deming or Collett (all in Terre Haute).

“He would throw all this random stuff he found in (the old time fruit cake tin),” Browning added. “I do metal detecting, still have the metal detector he used to find this. I inherited it when he passed away.”

A cleaning project led to his looking for Barnes now.

Browning found the old fruit cake tin “while I was going through some stuff here, cleaning out a China cabinet.

“I tried to reach out on Facebook and nobody bit,” he continued. “I hung it on a chandelier (in my house) to remind me, ‘Hey, I still haven’t found who these dog tags belong to.’”

Since his own father served during WWII, it meant a lot to Browning to find any relatives connected to Barnes’ dog tags. He has his own story of how another WWII vet made it possible not only for him to be born but to marry his wife - Pam Barnhart Browning.

“My wife’s grandfather served in the Marines at the same time and stormed the same beach,” Browning said. “Her grandfather saved my father’s life (on that day) so I could be born and marry my wife.

“That story raised the hair on the back of my neck and everything,” he said.

On a recent afternoon, Browning met Archer and her husband Larry at the McDonald’s on Terre Haute’s north side. Browning brought his fruit cake tin packed with metal objects.

“In the midst of all this stuff was your dad’s dog tag, and I’d like you to have that back,” he told Archer before turning over the item.

Browning noted “it has his blood type on there.”

“What’s his blood type?” Archer asked.

“Type O,” Browning answered.

The three talked finding many “small world” moments. Browning shared that he just got off work at the Putnamville Correctional Facility.

“You know Jerry Siverly?” Larry asked him.

“Yeah, Jerry’s my brother-in-law,” Browning replied.

“I worked with him at Anaconda (Aluminum Co.), and, when they downsized, he went to Putnamville,” Larry explained, with Browning noting he was going straight to his brother-in-law’s after the meeting to share the odd story of how Siverly’s name came up.

Several other mutual relationships were talked about between the three. Browning and Archer also discovered they grew up in neighborhoods in the same Terre Haute area and currently live a few blocks from each other with the same zip code.

“That’s just weird,” Browning said.

Archer brought pictures of her father during his time in the service and his school days in Hymera (1941 graduating class). The Shelburn residence on Barnes’ dog tag is a mystery itself.

“On that, I don’t know,” Archer said.

“Maybe it’s because Hymera was such a small town,” her husband Larry said of the adjacent town to Shelburn.

Archer did have an explanation for how her father came to Terre Haute.

“While he was in the service, my grandparents moved to Terre Haute,” she said. “That’s what I believe.”

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Source: Sullivan Daily Times, http://bit.ly/1HJ7aSE .

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Information from: Sullivan Daily Times, http://www.sullivan-times.com

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