He spotted them in a box alongside other items and purchased the box and its contents.
But he had no intention of keeping any of it.
Mr. Terry has found many pieces of military memorabilia at local tag sales over the years, ranging from letters from soldiers and generals to discharge papers for distant unknown veterans, and he keeps a small collection.
But these dog tags were different. They came from veteran John Edward Tremski, whose faded yellow military records stated that he was he was local, from Calverton.
“I don’t want to keep it,” Mr. Terry said last month. “I just want to be the person that gets it to its home.”
So this Memorial Day, here’s a short story of the life of one local veteran and how his dog tags found their way back to his family.
John Tremski was born Jan. 17, 1913, to Antone and Anna Tremski of Calverton, according to local records. His military acceptance papers say he completed eight years of grammar school and was a farmer earning $18 a week.
Mr. Tremski was called to service on March 3, 1941, according to the military documents. After medical tests declared him capable of active duty, Mr. Tremski was sent to war and served as a corporal in the U.S. Army. He was 28 years old.
The documents found at the Southold estate sale show another side of World War II as well.
Mr. Tremski was given a small medical card bearing his fingerprints and a small portrait as identification. He was also given a small pamphlet, about the size of a playing card, that advised ways Catholic soldiers could “look upon [their] years of training as a special opportunity God has given [them] to develop a strong body and a rugged character.”
The pamphlet also offered some advice: “Seek wholesome amusement in the recreation hours … don’t gamble. Most gamblers become ‘moochers’ — and the moocher is an Army pest.”
Mr. Tremski returned home from the war and stayed in the area. He worked in maintenance at Brookhaven National Lab for more than 20 years. When he died in 1988, he was living by himself in a mobile home park near Forge Road.
Though Mr. Tremski never married or had children, he is survived by a niece, Rita Hodun of Calverton. Ms. Hodun said in an interview last week that her family wasn’t close to her “Uncle Johnny.”
“I never saw him a lot,” she said upon being presented with his dog tags and other belongings. “I guess everybody [in the family] did their own thing.”
The family never gathered for holidays either, Ms. Hodun said, though she recalled meeting her uncle a few times when she was younger. She says she had no idea how his military papers ever became lost.
“We went through all the drawers and all the papers in his trailer [when he died,]” she said. “We never saw it.”
“He was kind of a quiet guy, a nice guy,” Ms. Hodun added as she ran her fingers slowly over the dog tags and documents.