‘It’s a pay it forward thing’

Mid Range Honor Guard Captain Mike Pistilli presents an American Flag to Joe Martin, grand nephew of WWI veteran Anton Bernhardt during a rememberance ceremony Monday afternoon at the Maple Hill Cemetery in Hibbing. Beside Martin is his son, Michael, 11. The ceremony was held to return the recently recovered dog tag of Bernhardt to his family.

HIBBING — “There was still frost in the ground but I had a good hit and about six to eight inches down and I found it under a pine tree in the northwest corner with my XP Deus,” Alan Carpenter, a local metal detector, told the Hibbing Daily Tribune last week. “I didn’t know what it was until I cleaned it up. And I thought dog tags were always oblong shaped, but this was round. Then I saw U.S. Marine Corps 1914.”

Carpenter, a local retiree, and his fellow detector, Jim Kochevar, represent XP Team USA. They’re known on YouTube as the “Minnesota Beach Boys.” Together, they’ve been locating and returning treasures to locals for nothing.

Two years ago, Carpenter unearthed 111 rings in a single summer. This spring, he was featured in the HDT after locating a lost wedding ring for a Chisholm couple. More recently, he was on a camping trip in Blackduck, Minn., when he found a class ring in Lake Benjamin and tracked down the owner who lost it there 50 years ago.

The latest tale follows a discovery made last spring at Cobb Cook Park in Hibbing.

That’s when Carpenter showed Kochevar the World War I dog tag belonging to a man named Anton Bernhardt, they were both up for the challenge of finding the next of kin so they could return it.

“I got a lot of information on the internet on who [Bernhardt] was, and turns out he was a police officer in Hibbing in the 1930s,” Carpenter said, noting that they continued researching grave finder’s sites online until they found a family member’s contact information. And on Memorial Day this year, they got in touch with a man named Joe Martin from Duluth, Bernhardt’s great-nephew.

“He was very, very excited,” Carpenter recalled.

A special tribute

On Monday, a crowd of about 25 people — including Carpenter and Kochevar, a camera crew for WDIO, members of the Mid-Range Honor Guard and the Hibbing Police Department — gathered at the gravesite of Bernhardt at the Maple Hill Cemetery in Hibbing. They watched Bernhardt’s dog tag get returned to the Martin family during a special tribune ceremony.

Martin, a retired computer programmer, stood in a suit beside his wife, Lisa, who works at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. With them was their 17-year-old daughter, Justine, and 11-year-old son, Michael. Martin told the HDT, “Someone contacted first my sister, then she contacted me because she lives way down in Rochester and I was a lot closer being in Duluth. She put Al and I in contact and then it went from there.”

Bernhardt, who died in 1932, passed before Martin was born. And the Martin family was surprised to learn they had any family in Hibbing when Carpenter first reached out.

“The last person who would’ve remembered [Bernhardt] would’ve been Joe’s mom,” Lisa explained. “She died 11 years ago, so to the best of our knowledge, she would’ve been the last.” As what they would do with the dog tag, she replied, “We’re still talking but we don’t know. I can’t wait to see it, I haven’t seen it yet.”

She continued, “We just want to thank the fellas who found it and for organizing all this. It’s just so special.”

At the cemetery, Justine watched the Honor Guard begin to assemble in place near Bernhardt’s grave and remarked, “It’s very special. And seeing them set everything up, it’s an honor.”

The Honor Guard, which consists of independent volunteers from the Iron Range representing each branch of the military, divided themselves into two squads: the Honor Guard Squad with their rifles and the Tribute Squad with their drums and a bugle.

The ceremony began and the former paid tribute to their fallen by firing five rounds of shots into the air. Then they presented Martin with a folded American Flag, on which Bernhardt’s dog tag was placed.

Mike Pistilli, a former Marine and captain of the Honor Guard, told Martin, “On behalf of the government of the United States, the four veteran’s organizations in Mid-Range Honor Guard, it gives me great honor to present you with the flag of our nation in which your loved one has so greatly and proudly served.”

Pistilli also presented Martin with the shells from the fired rounds. Martin smiled solemnly and thanked him as Carpenter and Kochevar watched from afar.

Following the service, Pistilli told the HDT, “I think that’s just remarkable. They didn’t know if [Bernhardt] had had an Honors done for him, so we just decided well, we’re here, we can do it, we’re gonna do it.” He added, “This is the first time we’ve ever had a ceremony like this. It was spawned from that dog tag right there, which is just awesome.”

Near him stood a long line of flags, a soldier’s cross sculpture with rifle, helmet and boots and a memorial banner. It’s the same set-up for any Honor Guard ceremony.

Carpenter’s sister, Linda Wydra, was also there with her husband, Jim, who is a member of the Honor Guard. She told the HDT, “To have my brother doing all this, finding stuff and returning it without asking for any money… People want to give him money and he says, ‘No, this is just the honor of me being able to give this to you’ to the person that lost it.” Pausing, she smiled. “Karma — it will come back.”

Carpenter and Kocheavor were pleased with how events transpired. They’re also looking forward to whatever adventure their metal detectors might take them next.

“We do this for free,” Kocheavor said. “There’s no rewards accepted, it’s a pay it forward thing.”

The metal detecting team invites anyone who’s lost something precious to check them out on YouTube as “The Minnesota Beach Boys,” or to reach out to Carpenter at 218-966-8144, or Kocheavor at 218-787-2478.

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