A man digging for ivory on St. Lawrence Island found a different kind of treasure last weekend – a piece of Alaska’s military history still marked with its wearer’s name.

Edwin Campbell, who lives on the Bering Sea island, said he was relic hunting Sunday evening in Gambell – one of Alaska's closest points to the Russian Far East – when he dug up an old military helmet.

Campbell found two names stenciled on the inside of the helmet: Ralph G., then Master Sgt. Wayne Kelly. Kelly's rank is used by the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force.

In the same handwriting as Kelly’s are a series of numbers, RA34047827, which Campbell said were “probably his tag number or his serial number.”

The find wasn’t easy for Campbell, who said he unearthed it unaided using just a shovel near his late grandparents' home.

“You have to go way deep,” Campbell said. “I found that helmet about five and a half, six feet underground and about 40 feet down from our old house.”

A few hours later, Campbell also found a grenade, which he said appeared to be inert.

“It looked like it was discharged,” Campbell said. “They probably opened it up and tore the powder out of it; it wasn’t exploded or anything.”

Edwin Campbell and his granddaughter, Maci Klarissa Slwooko, pose with a military helmet and inert grenade Campbell dug up near Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. (Credit: Courtesy Marissa Slwooko)

Both the grenade and the helmet’s exact origin are still a mystery, prompting Campbell’s daughter Marissa Slwooko to put up a Facebook post with images of the helmet.

“I do not have any idea of how it got there, but I know back in World War II the military was stationed here,” Campbell said. “That’s when they recruited 18 G.I.s from our island.”

U.S. Army Alaska spokesman John Pennell wasn’t immediately able to confirm Tuesday that the helmet and grenade Campbell found dated back to World War II. Much of the state hosts military items that may contain still-live explosives, Pennell said, and the Army routinely deploys Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams to deal with finds across the state.

“We’ve got a lot of ordnance, not just Army stuff but old Air Force bombs and Navy mines,” Pennell said. “Not just from recent years, but also from the World War II era.”

Crews were checking Tuesday to confirm that the grenade Campbell found Sunday was indeed inert, as Pennell asked people to be wary of any future finds that appear dangerous.

“What we request is that people don’t take it home and use it as a doorstop or anything like that,” Pennell said. “If you find anything that looks like a bomb, alert your local police or other authorities.”

Ultimately, Campbell hopes to find any living relatives of the soldier who carried the helmet.

“I’ve been getting comments from all over the world; I think I’ve got the world’s attention,” Campbell said. “I think it belongs in a museum, you know?”

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