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Sargent   Brooks  Toler

Dog tag of WWII soldier from Paris found in Italy.

 

By HEATHER BRYANT
P-I Asst. News Editor

 

Sgt. Brooks Toler, a native of Paris, served his country during World War II. He was killed in action Jan. 25, 1945, in France. His dog tag was found in Italy and recently returned to his surviving family members. His father, Claude Toler, was a businessman, attorney, educator and legislator. The elder Toler established Toler’s Business College in 1923 in Paris.

The small piece of metal was worn and weathered but the etching on its surface was still plainly visible, telling the story of a 25-year-old man from the small town of Paris who sacrificed his life for his country during World War II.

Sgt. Brooks Toler’s dog tag was found two years ago, after being missing for more than 60 years, on a WWII battlefield in Italy and was recently returned to his surviving family members.

A man named Marco Collalto in Italy who collects WWII memorabilia purchased the dog tag from a man who found it with a metal detector in Manziana on a battlefield. Collalto was then put in contact with Jim Upton, a retired detective who lives in Tennessee and is now a World War II detective. Upton contacted Stephanie Tayloe with the genealogy department inside Rhea Public Library to ask for help in finding Toler’s family.

After some research, Tayloe was able to help Upton track down Toler’s niece, Dede Tudor, who lives in Illinois.

“It was like a hand reaching across time over half a century to bring closure to this family,” said Tayloe. “It was very rewarding to help.”

The inscription on the tag read, “William B. Toler, 34287427 T42 O, Claude C. Toler, Box 531, Paris, Tenn P.”

Tayloe said this is the first time the genealogy department helped in returning a dog tag to a fallen soldier’s family.

“We do more than genealogy, we have a lot of interesting stories,” she said.

She said this is the fourth dog tag Upton has helped to return to soldiers’ families.

“It speaks really highly of him and his work,” said Tayloe. “Brooks Toler had so many friends and he was such a popular man.”

She said Toler’s 1945 funeral service was the largest in Paris up until that time. It was held at First United Methodist Church and he was buried in Maplewood Cemetery.

She said books the genealogy department has created with several newspaper clippings about WWII soldiers helped in the search. The department is currently looking for clippings and photos that can be copied to create Civil War books on Henry County soldiers.

Toler was the only son of Claude and Bertha May Toler. He attended Grove High School and graduated from Morgan School for Boys at Petersburg. He attended the University of Tennessee where he took a pre-law course and had finished one year’s work at Cumberland University Law School at Lebanon when he entered the service. He intended to finish his law school studies after the war.

Toler was injured in 1944 when an enemy shell exploded above his head. In a letter to his parents he wrote, “I am a very lucky boy. It is a miracle I was not killed.” He recovered and returned to battle.

He was killed in action in France on Jan. 25, 1945, just three months and seven days before Germany surrendered and World War II ended in Europe.

In an article in a 1990 edition of The Color-Bearer, a publication about Henry County veterans, P-I editor emeritus and WWII veteran Bryant Williams wrote about Toler’s service.

“Sgt. Brooks Toler was a brave and courageous soldier in the finest tradition of American combat forces. For 28 months he was in an almost continuous combat situation, from the time his company hit the beaches at French Morocco, North Africa in October 1942 until that final day in January 1945 in the Colmar Pocket of France when he made the supreme sacrifice for his country.”

Toler’s sister, Earline Toler Gardner, died in 2002. Her daughter, Tudor, became emotional when she found out her uncle’s dog tag had been found.

She said her mother always kept Toler’s memory alive in their house. Tudor is currently caring for her father, Guy Gardner. Gardner never had the chance to meet his brother-in-law, but did receive a letter from him while Toler was fighting overseas.

“It was one of those, ‘So, you’re going to marry my sister’ letters,” said Tudor with a chuckle.

“He was in the entire war from the beginning to the end,” she said. “He was so brave.”

She said her father is keeping the dog tag for now.

“When it came in the mail, he held it to his chest,” she said. “It’s special to him. All of that is very fresh in this generation’s mind … It always hurt (my father) that he never was able to meet him.”

“It’s just really amazing (we have the dog tag),” said Tudor. “I was flabbergasted.”

She said Collalto, Upton and Tayloe are all generous people because of their work in returning such a precious relic.

“You wonder how Uncle Brooks lost (his dog tag),” she said. “I bet if he was alive he could tell us exactly how he lost it. We wish he would have made it home.”

She said if her mother was still alive, she would have also cherished the dog tag. Tudor said the dog tag will eventually be given to her brother, named Brooks after her uncle, who lives in California.

The family has many of Toler’s personal effects including a pair of his boots.

“We kept it all,” she said.

The family is grateful to have Toler’s dog tag — yet another piece of the puzzle of this man who was loved by many.

“He’s frozen in time,” she said.


SGT.  TOLER  WOULD  HAVE  BEEN  THE  CLASS OF 1937.

 

An American flag waves in the wind next to
Sgt. Brooks Toler’s grave marker
at Maplewood Cemetery in Paris.

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Staff  photo by Heather Bryant

 

WILLIAM  BROOKS   TOLER
Sargent, Tennessee
Company C, 756 Tank  Battalion
World  War  II,  P.H.
17 Mar. 1919 - 25 Jan. 1945
Died & buried in Epinal, France

 

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Reprinted  from
The Paris Post-Intelligencer
Paris, Tennessee
December 3, 2008  Edition ~ Used  by  Permission

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