Tarnished and a bit corroded from age and exposure to the elements, the name on the thin brass disk was still legible: Piscitello, M.J., USMC.
The tag included the Marine’s serial number, blood type and date of enlistment. It hung with several other dog tags – many illegible – in the Uvea Museum Association, a small exhibit center honoring American servicemen who served on Wallis Island, a tiny dot of land in Polynesia.
Hilton Head Island resident Michael J. Piscitello, 92, was just 18 when he went to Wallis Island, west of American Samoa and northeast of Fiji. He recalled losing the tag while playing tackle football on the soft sands of the tiny Pacific island, but he never thought about it again until this past May, when a stranger called him and asked about it.
Writer Jeremy E. Shiok had found the tag in the Wallis museum in August of 2010 while researching for a book about his grandfather’s service with the Marine 8th Defense Battalion, a unit that defended the island from May 1942 to November 1943. Shiok requested and eventually received personnel records from the National Personnel Center in St. Louis, Mo., for Piscitello, M.J., USMC. He then requested – and received – the tag from the museum.
“Much to my amazement, I located someone with his name and age living in Hilton Head. I immediately called and spoke with him and his wife, very quickly confirmed his identity, and told him about his dog tag,” Shiok wrote in an email. “As you can imagine, they were both stunned by the news.”
Two weeks ago, Shiok flew from his home in Alaska to South Carolina and returned the dog tag to Piscitello at his home in Shipyard – 72 years after it was lost.
Piscitello was a field artillery crewman in C Battery, a 75mm pack howitzer battalion in the 22nd Marines. In 1943, he and his fellow Marines lived and trained on the island for nearly 10 months.
Shiok told him that his dog tag was found on Mount Lulu, the highest point on the island at about 430 feet above sea level. The Marines did a lot of hiking around the island in their spare time and often walked the two or three miles down the hill into town.
Piscitello said the town consisted of about 20 buildings when he was there and that the people were nice.
“When we arrived, we had to build our own quarters. It took a while for us to get organized,” Piscitello said. “We put up our tents, had an outdoor mess hall. It took a couple of weeks. Then bing, bing, bing, we got into a routine, practiced artillery fire, stood guard duty.”
His unit then shipped out to fight in the Marshall Islands atolls of Kwajalein and Eniwetok, and Guam in the Marianas. Then came more sailing across the South Pacific.
“When we left Wallis, the 106th Army came along and they traveled with us. From there we went to Guadalcanal. There was R&R in Maui for two weeks. Then we boarded a ship and then went back to the ‘canal,” Piscitello said. “We were out at sea at Iwo because our guns couldn’t make it up the ramp. It was too slippery, no grip. I just watched the show. It was a sight.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.