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History comes calling as soldier's dogtag surfaces

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 29. 2013 8:47PM
Alfred T. Cabral is shown in uniform in this circa-1944 photo with, from left, his mother Mercedes, dad Jose, and sisters Juliet and Ernie. (Courtesy of Joe Cabral)

A New Boston man was stunned to learn that a piece of family history would be coming home nearly 70 years after being lost in Italy during World War II.

"It was an emotional Christmas present. Out of nowhere, this dogtag resurfaced," Joe Cabral, the oldest of Alfred T. Cabral's three children, said Sunday.

The senior Cabral survived the bloody battle of Anzio in January 1944. Nearly a year later, a land mine buried in the deep snow of the Vosges Mountains in northeast France nearly took off his left foot.

Cabral, now 88, is living in a nursing home near Worcester, Mass. Joe Cabral said his father has suffered some short-term memory loss but knew exactly what his family was talking about when they told him last week of a dogtag found on the beach at Nettuno, just east of Anzio.

"He was elated. He wasn't as emotional as the rest of us were. He remembers his soldier number on the tag and started reciting it," Joe Cabral said.

Alfred Cabral was part of the Allied forces that landed at the Anzio beachhead on Jan. 22, 1944. German troops fought hard to keep the Allies from advancing. Cabral arrived in Italy as an 18-year-old New Englander who had enlisted in the Army just seven months before.

Recently, a man walking on a beach in Nettuno found the tag and turned it in at a local military cemetery, thinking it likely belonged to a soldier killed during the battle. The Cabral family learned of the discovery through an email Dec. 26 from the American Battle Monuments Commission, which oversees military cemeteries and memorials at battle sites throughout the world.

Joe Cabral said the family hopes the tag will be sent back to the United States, so it can be presented to his father. The story has already made the rounds at the home where he's staying next to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Joe Cabral said the other veterans have been asking his father about the discovery.

Cabral's military service earned him a Purple Heart and, much later, a Bronze Star.

The junior Cabral said his father spoke very little about the war to his children. After leaving the Army, Al Cabral joined the police department in Hudson, Mass., his hometown. He advanced to chief and served until his retirement in 1979.

It wasn't until 1985 that Cabral opened up about his wartime experiences. He wrote a letter to his three children dated Jan. 10, 1985 — 40 years to the day he stepped on a mine in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, just across the Rhine River from Germany. The Battle of the Bulge had been raging since mid-December to the northwest in the Germans' last-ditch attempt to stop the Allied advance.

Cabral wrote that he and his unit were on patrol, trudging through deep mountain snow.

"It was hard to tell exactly where we were at times because everything looked alike," he wrote his children.

The group was retracing steps when Cabral triggered a mine. It wasn't until he noticed a bloody mass on his left foot that he knew he was injured. From there, he recalled his sergeant rushing toward him, grabbing him and carrying him to safety. Cabral spent the duration of the war in various military hospitals. Doctors initially wanted to amputate, but decided instead to try a medication Cabral had never heard of — penicillin.

Cabral's story was captured on video and is on display for visitors near the entrance of the World War II Museum in New Orleans.

After learning of the dogtag, Joe Cabral said he read the 1985 letter again and went online to see if he could place where his father was wounded.

"We've always had the utmost respect for what he did," he said. "He remembers the war like it was yesterday."

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