Lou Pitalo is an 88-year-old World War II veteran who grew up on Biloxi's Point Cadet. Three of his brothers also served in the war, and all three came home safe and sound. Lou had a career as a teacher and coach in Louisiana before retiring and coming back home to Biloxi.
WLOX News recently had a chance to speak with Pitalo about how something very small went missing for so long, and meant so much to him.
Pitalo was 17 when he joined the U.S. Coast Guard.
His most prominent memory of the war was Easter Sunday morning of 1945, when his ship dropped off trucks and men on Okinawa. This would be the place where so many Americans would die.
"I got up the next morning, and here is what I see," Pitalo said.
"They have a stretcher, two guys that is all you see, a khaki blanket and the boots, dead soldiers. It was so sad and I still remember it to this day. It really got to me."
Those kinds of memories came rushing back to Lou just a few months ago, when he was part of Honor Flight six, that took our Mississippi World War II veterans to see their memorial in the nation's capital.
"That Honor Flight was my Honor Flight, because it took 70 years before I got a homecoming the way they did. They did a beautiful job. It was just fantastic."
There was still one thing missing from Pitalo's World War II story. His dog tags disappeared from his Biloxi home way back in 1946.
As you might imagine, he thought they were long gone. At least, that was until just a few months ago, when he got a very big surprise.
"I got a phone call. This guy says, ‘are you Lou Pitalo?' I said ‘yea,' and he said ‘I have your dog tags.' "
To say the least, Pitalo was stunned. He asked how and where he found them.
It turns out the man's mother lived in the home behind where Pitalo grew up. His mom passed away recently, and when they were cleaning out the home they found the dog tags.
The man who found them lives in Lucedale, and still has not seen Pitalo. However, this fall he left the dog tags on Pitalo's front door in Ocean Springs. When he spotted them, there were more than a few tears in the Pitalo family.
Needless to say, those dog tags are priceless to Pitalo. He now keeps them in a safe place inside his home. As to when he finally gets to meet the man who found them, he told us, "I will give him a big hug and of course, tell him thank you. It is hard to find the words to describe how much this means to me."
Pitalo ended our conversation by saying he knew God wanted him to have these dog tags back.
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