Image Source: https://www.usatoday.com/
When 12-year-old Kolton Conrad went kayaking with his father and brother on July 4, he had no way of knowing he’d find a part of someone’s past, and help a family reconnect.
On a “guys day out,” the Conrads were kayaking down the Hocking River. They’ve taken the trip before, usually getting on the water at Clear Creek Metro Park and traveling down to Logan.
Stopping at a beach, the Conrads were picking up trash, something they’ve done before, when Kolton noticed a glint in the water. When he went to investigate, he found a dog tag, slightly grimy, but still in good enough condition to be read. The name on the tag read Rhonemus.
He took it to his father, who said they’d have to double check it was authentic. They finished their trip, and cleaned up the tag. Kolton’s mother Ashley said Kolton knew the tags were the real thing, because he is an avid history student, and has a passion for the armed forces. His aunt is also in the military, and his family has a history of serving.
After they verified dog tag was real, Ashley turned to social media to see if they could find anyone who might know who the tags belonged to.
“Rhonemus doesn’t seem like a very common name, so we thought it should be pretty easy to find who it belonged to. So we put it on Facebook, and within about six hours someone got in touch with us,” she said. “That woman put us in contact with Kimberly Greenlee, the dog tag’s owner’s sister. We knew we had to get the tag back to her, so we arranged to meet.”
“We said we could meet at Rising Park, and Kimberly said it was her brother’s favorite place to hang out, so we knew it felt right.”
They met with Greenlee at the park to return the tag. Kolton said it felt great to give the tag back, and that Greenlee told him he was “super special,” and meant to find the tag.
Greenlee’s brother, Steven Rhonemus, served in the US Marine Corps before he was discharged due to an injury. She said he died after he was injured in a motorcycle crash in 1974. She said she wasn’t sure how the tag ended up in the river, but she did say he loved the outdoors, so it could have been lost when he went with his friends to the river.
“When my cousin, Wendy Pennington, called me about Ashley’s post, I could feel her excitement over the phone. She told me ‘you’re not going to believe this,’ and I could just hear the disbelief,” Greenlee said. “She told me how Kolton found the dog tag, and I just said ‘WHAT?’ It’s just amazing to think about, this tag was lost for 46 years, and for this little boy to find it on Independence Day, of all days.”
“And for him to realize the meaning behind the tag, and to hold onto it, to help a stranger’s family, it’s amazing.”
When she heard the Conrads had her brother’s dog tag, Greenlee said she knew she had to give it to her niece, Danielle, who hadn’t been born by the time of Steven’s death. Not only did she not have the chance to meet her father, but there was a fire shortly after his death, and they’d lost pictures and other items. Getting her the dog tag was one way Greenlee said they could give Danielle a piece of her father.
“I reached out to Danielle, and I told her the story. We haven’t been in touch for a while, but I wanted to offer her the dog tag, so she could have that to remember her father,” she said. “It was emotional when she got it. She said it felt like God was letting her know her dad was with her and watching over her.”
“It’s just amazing for me how much of a ripple effect there has been since Kolton found the tag, and all the good we’ve heard about because of it.”
She added she wanted to honor Crystal Potts for seeing Ashley’s post, who then shared it with Pennington, who reached out to Greenlee. She said it was amazing these people had an important part in the story, and they’re caring individuals.
After Ashley posted the story about the tags, Greenlee shared “The Story of The Amazing & Incredible Traveling Dog Tags,” and she started to receive messages and comments about her brother, how much people cared for him and how much he meant to them.
“He was a brother, a protector. Everybody loved him. The first thing you’d hear about him if you said his name is ‘he was my brother.’ He was a good man,” Greenlee said. “I loved him, and I can only imagine how my life would have been different if he had lived.”
“I just want to acknowledge Kolton and his family. We have so much gratefulness for them, from the bottom of our hearts. They were able to give us back a piece of my brother, and helped show respect to the military, the respect it deserves.”