Four years ago in a wheat field outside the small French town of Dommartin-lès-Remiremont, Olivier Bena, a 48-year-old manager of a cheese factory, was searching the field with a metal detector.
The field lay at the bottom of a valley in the Vosges mountain area of northeastern France. It was purportedly home to Roman and Napoleonic coins that local farmers had found in the past. Bena, passionate about all history related to the Vosges, bought a metal detector in the hopes of finding these vestiges of an earlier time.
He was successful in finding the coins, and a U.S. dog tag that belonged to Clifford Fralick.
Clifford Hoerter Fralick served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in France during World War I. Bena wanted to find Fralick’s family to return the dog tag, but not being fluent in English, his friend Daniel Bastien, a retired French Air Force officer, offered to help him in the search.
After a bit of digging, the duo found Clifford Fralick’s grandson: 62-year-old Crestwood resident Larry Fralick.
“When Olivier told me about this dog tag two years ago, I mentioned to him that it would be nice to send it back to the descendants of this U.S. soldier,” Bastien said. “He said that it was his objective from the day he found it.”
Larry Fralick was admittedly skeptical that a French man was saying he had found his grandfather’s dog tag laying in a wheat field.
“My first thought was this was a scam,” he said.
But after talking more with Bastien, he realized the only thing motivating the two was to return the dog tag to its rightful place and learn more about Clifford Fralick.
Debbie Fralick, Larry’s wife, said Bena originally wanted to deliver the dog tag in person on a visit to the United States. A trip like that, however, would take Bena some time to save up money so he went ahead and mailed the tag, which arrived in mid-June.
“He even sent us a picture of his house and said that he would be happy to host us if we ever traveled to eastern France,” Debbie Fralick said.
Larry Fralick said he was amazed at how good of condition the dog tag was in, considering it had weathered the elements and likely farming equipment over the past 100 years.
During World War I, U.S. soldiers were issued two aluminum tags that were hand stamped with their name, rank, serial number, unit and religion, according to military digital media company Task & Purpose.
Larry Fralick was 14-years-old when his grandfather died in September 1972 at the age of 78. He said he doesn’t remember a whole lot about him, but remembers how he loved to “bet the horses and play cards.”
“Once a week we’d pack up and go play cards with him,” he said.
But Clifford Fralick never talked much about his service in the Great War, aside from a few bits about France here and there.
Online records, accessed through Ancestry.com, show Clifford Fralick enlisted in the army at the age of 23 on June 5, 1917. At the time, he lived at 1638 Story Ave. in Louisville and worked as a grocery clerk.
Records also show he was a private in Company D, 52nd Infantry Regiment. The infantry regiment was later assigned to the 6th Infantry Division.
The 6th Division was assigned to the Vosges sector of France in late August 1918 after training in western France.
While in Vosges, the division routinely engaged in patrols in “no man’s land,” an area of land between two enemy trench systems, and behind German lines, according to the National Association of the 6th Infantry Division, Inc.
“Biggest thing he talked about was how nasty it was in the foxholes,” Larry Fralick said.
The Vosges sector was a roughly 21-mile stretch of woodland and mountains in eastern France that bordered Germany. The nearby town of Remiremont, which is 4.5 kilometers away from Dommartin-lès-Remiremont where the dog tag was found, was part of the sector.
The 6th Division participated in the closing campaign of World War I, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which was fought for 47 days and resulted in over 3.5 million casualties on all sides of the campaign.
A bulk of the division returned to the U.S. in June 1919 aboard the USS Leviathan, and according to a U.S. Army Transport Service passenger list, Clifford Fralick was on the ship when it departed from Brest, France on June 5, 1919.
After his service, Clifford Fralick returned home to Louisville and shortly after began working for National Distillers Products Corp. where Larry Fralick said his grandfather was employed at for over 40 years.
The company had several distillery warehouses around Louisville; one was at the intersection of Payne Street and Lexington Road. Clifford Fralick later moved to a house on Payne Street where he raised a family.
Clifford Fralick married Ivy Lillie Spies and they had two children: Guy Fralick and a junior Clifford Fralick.
At the age of 47, the senior Clifford Fralick filled out a draft registration card for World War II. He didn’t serve in World War II, but his son, Larry’s father, Guy Fralick did.
Guy Fralick died in September 2016, and his casket was draped with an American flag to commemorate his service in the U.S. Navy. He was buried, as his father and mother were, in Section 21 of Cave Hill Cemetery.
Today, Larry Fralick keeps his father’s flag inside a shadowbox in his Crestwood home with his grandfather’s dog tag now alongside it.
“It was astounding to think for over 100 years that’s been laying over there,” he said. “The response from our friends and family has been overwhelming.”