She showed the artifact to a friend over a meal. The friend mentioned that her brother had a passion for history, so she took photographs of the dog tags and emailed them to him.
The brother, Philippe Clerbout, posted the photos in an online history forum. He got a reply from the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., which said Wilkins joined the military on Dec. 31, 1942, in Fort Bragg, N.C.
Clerbout became a man with a mission: finding Willie Wilkins.
His quest to help an American soldier was personal. Cherbout's father was a prisoner in Germany from June 1940 until the camp was liberated in 1945. He returned to France with American troops and married Cherbout's mother.
Cherbout sent emails to anyone he thought could help, from the White House to media outlets. A woman from the U.S. Department of Veteran's affairs in Minneapolis located Willie Wilkins in Newark.
Carol Wilkins thought the phone call was a prank. It was the woman from Minneapolis, asking for her father's honorable discharge number because someone found his dog tag.
Carol Wilkins didn't believe the woman and insisted on calling her back. The call was legitimate.
"I said, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy," she said, "They found your dog tags. You know you never had them."
Wilkins said her father "was just smiling. He was so happy."
Veteran's affairs got in touch with the GI Go Fund, a Newark nonprofit that connects veterans with services and helps them make the transition to civilian life. The organization brought the dog tag to New Jersey.
Dog tags are "who you are in the military. It's how you're identified. This is me. This is who I am," said Jack Fanous, executive director and co-founder of the GI Go Fund.
As rain fell outside, Willie Wilkins was honored in a ceremony under Newark City Hall's soaring rotunda, where Mayor Cory Booker presented the Wilkinses with the dog tag on Wednesday, Victory in Europe Day. The ceremony was attended by Bertrand Lortholary, the Counsul General of France.
"The people of France are very grateful for the courage it took, the incredible courage, it took for American soldiers to come fight on French ground," he said.
Carol Wilkins plans to display the tag in a case on her father's dresser. Willie Wilkins has been in a rehabilitation facility and suffers from Alzheimer's Disease and other ailments. She expects him to return to their home soon.
When asked if he ever thought he would see his dog tag again, Willie Wilkins shook his head.
"I never did," he said.
Associated Press writer Verena Dobnik in New York contributed to this report.
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