ALBANY, N.Y. — It took 50 years for a Long Island woman to finally complete her quest to return a World War II veteran's lost dog tags she found on a New York City beach.
Laurie Lubin, of Bellmore, began her search by poring over phone books in the 1960s and continued into the internet era. She recently hit pay dirt when she learned that one of the veteran's daughters lives just a few miles away in Queens.
Lubin's quest to find Brooklyn native Irving Isaacs began in the summer of '66 when she was about to turn 14. One day at Rockaway Beach in Queens, she spotted something shiny in the sand: a pair of dog tags on a metal chain, along with a small metal mezuzah, a religious pendant some Jewish servicemen attached to their tags. She knew immediately what the items were because her father still had his own mezuzah-accessorized dog tags from serving in the Army during WWII.
Lubin took the dog tags home and tried to find Isaacs' name in New York City phone books, but was unsuccessful. During the decades that followed, Lubin would periodically resume her mission to track down Isaacs, only to keep hitting dead ends. Her obsession with finding him became a running joke in her family.
Last February, she read an Associated Press story about an Indiana soldier's WWII dog tag being returned to his family after it was found on the Pacific island of Saipan.
She contacted the AP, which led to the news agency's Randy Herschaft, an investigative researcher based in Manhattan, digging up information on two WWII U.S. Army veterans from New York named Irving Isaacs. One had changed his name after the war and moved to California, where he died in 1994. The other had remained in New York until his death in 1992.
Lubin tracked down a daughter of the veteran who died in California. She confirmed to Lubin that her father had been born Irving Isaacs in New York, but had changed his name after the war. Based on that information, Lubin mailed the dog tags to her in late July. Soon afterward, she learned from Herschaft that his review of military and civilian records of the two men determined the dog tags actually belonged to the Irving Isaacs who stayed in New York.
After being notified of the mistake, the woman in California mailed the tags back to Lubin.
Disappointed, but still determined to find the family of the right Irving Isaacs, Lubin then used newly obtained information by Herschaft to contact Audrey Berk, one of the New York Isaacs' two daughters.
Lubin, 64, phoned Berk earlier this month with the news that she had found her father's WWII dog tags.
"I was shocked," Berk, 66, told the AP. "Then we started talking and I know her family, which is even more shocking."
It turned out Berk lived in the same Queens apartment complex as Lubin's husband's ex-wife and children. Berk has long known the Lubin family, but had never meet Laurie. The two women met for the first time on Aug. 22 at a restaurant near Lubin's home. Lubin handed over the dog tags to a flabbergasted Berk.
"It was just amazing. I was speechless," said Berk, who plans to send one of the tags to her sister, Joanne Isaacs, of Flagstaff, Arizona.
For Lubin's part, she's glad she stuck to it all those years.
"I'm just so happy to return it to them," she said, adding the Yiddish word "bashert."
Rough translation: "It was meant to be."