What began with the discovery of some World War II dog tags in the West Desert has led a Top of Utah father/son duo to a startling mystery, a historical investigation -- and a new long-distance friend.
It all began when Tim L. Kutz, 58, of Clearfield, was working with the military at an airfield near Wendover. His manager found the dog tags and showed them to Kutz.
"It looked like an Army Air Corps dog tag. It had an 'H' for religion," Kutz said. "I didn't know what that meant and I was curious."
Kutz worked in the military bomb squad for 20 years and is now a contracted training program analyst for the Threat Management Group. But Kutz is also a history buff.
After he did some research, he learned the "H" stands for "Hebrew."
During World War II, Jewish air crew members who were going to England, and then flying over Germany, knew they could be in worse danger if they were captured and the Nazis found out they were Jewish. They would sometimes change their dog tags to "no religion" or simply list a different religion.
Kutz decided to investigate further, with the help of his son, Tim Kutz, 33, who is majoring in history at Weber State University.
"My dad knew I was into old stuff like that," Tim Kutz said. "The dog tags were all rusty and worn, but we could make out a name on it."
The name on the dog tags was Lt. Jerome Flohr.
The Kutz and Kutz team decided to investigate. They obtained flight records and discovered Flohr was a navigator on a B-17 bomber and had flown eight missions into Germany. The young man crashed once in England but survived. There were two or three more flights; then his name showed up on a list titled "Deceased, non-battle." He died in England in 1943.
They couldn't just stop there. How did Flohr die?
The two were able to find Flohr's co-pilot, who is a retired Air Force colonel living in Texas. The man remembered Flohr and how he died: There was a pre-bombing mission and Flohr missed his ride back to the aircraft. He had to walk back and it was a blackout -- all lights were out so the Germans couldn't see where to bomb -- so it was pitch dark outside. Flohr was accidentally hit and killed by a military vehicle.
"I made it my mission to find his family," Tim L. Kutz said. "I knew he grew up in Bronx, New York."
They discovered Flohr's niece, Arlene Flohr, an attorney working in New York City. She knew nothing of her uncle, other than that he had died during WWII. Tim L. Kutz was able to track her down just a few days before July 4 last summer.
He spoke with her over the phone. "She said she couldn't believe someone would do all that research for someone they didn't even know," he said. "I told her, 'That's what we do in the military. We take care of each other.' She was very grateful."
The elder Kutz sent the dog tags via Fed Ex, and Arlene Flohr presented them to her family on the Fourth of July.
Arlene Flohr, speaking with the Standard-Examiner from New York via phone, said she was surprised when Tim L. Kutz called her out of the blue. but "we were pleased that someone would put so much time into this. We are very grateful about that."
Flohr said she knew very little about her uncle. "I didn't know he was stationed in Utah and still have no idea how the dog tags got there," she said. The Kutzes determined Jerome Flohr was stationed in Utah in 1942, and maybe early 1943.
Branden Little, an assistant history professor at WSU who teaches military issues, was fascinated to hear about the dog tags and the Kutz research.
"Who would have known the residue of war would surface through an old dog tag found out in the desert?" Little said. "The fact this duo pursued the history of these dog tags is commendable."
Flohr died in October 1943, which Little says was several months into the aerial campaign, a combined bombing defensive. It was a multinational operation, a joint effort with the British and American military.
That was a month before the United States began to thrust through the central Pacific. It was a point at which the U.S. was very weak militarily, but was trying to push farther and farther into Nazi-held Europe and into the Japanese-held regions of the Pacific, Little said.
The fact that Flohr was killed in an accident, amid his own military, brings attention to the fact that there are military members who do get killed due to friendly fire or accidents, Little added.
"Here is a crew member on a bomber who dies on an air field because he gets run over," he said. "It's a tragedy."