Dog Tag Recovery
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dog tag recovery

By Trevor Magrath

It was a mild autumn evening around Easter so my wife, Pam and I decided to have dinner on our back deck with our daughter and her boyfriend. Just as we started our meal the phone rang. My immediate thought was 'another bloody survey' so I'll just let it go to the answering machine. However, my conscience got the better of me and, as it's usually my job in the family to get rid of nuisance callers, I eventually decided to answer it.

The caller identified me by name and asked how I was and received the usual disinterested and somewhat abrupt "good". Then he identified himself and I still remained sceptical as the name meant nothing to me at the time. It was the following that simply blew me away.

The caller's next question was to ask whether I served in the Armed Forces, which aroused some interest, but I was still suspicious of the caller's motives. He then went on to ask me if I served in Vietnam, which I found intriguing, particularly after he mentioned the years of 1969/70 when I had served.

By now, my total attention was focused on what would follow these probing questions because surely no sales company would dig that far back for personal information even though these days, despite privacy regulations, they seem to know so much about us. By this time I had totally forgotten my empty stomach and was fully embroiled in the call and the mystique it provided as to where it was heading. The caller, Steve Howe, was then able to quote my rank, serial number and date of birth all of which were accurate. He revealed that one of my dog tags had been found in Vietnam and he was helping to trace its owner.

I was momentarily speechless, which doesn't happen often, as I had lost one of my tags when serving for 5RAR (second tour) but wasn't certain exactly how or where - I had a recollection it was during a night patrol, some kilometres from Nui Dat. It was never found so a replacement was provided. Rather than use the green hutchie cord allocated, I chose to wear my dog tags on a cheap American chain along with a 'Peace-Ban the Bomb' symbol so it's no wonder it broke when I think about it now. The replacement tag provided was quite inferior in quality, made from a much softer metal, probably tin, and simply engraved rather than embossed on what seemed to be a brass plate originally. It never really had the same significance to me but I wore it as directed just in case I was KIA when one tag would stay with my body and the other would be returned to my NOK. Fortunately that didn't happen and I am here to tell this story. As to the prospect of my "missing dog tag" being found after 38 years I must say I was totally stoked and couldn't wait to have it back in my possession.

Steve explained that he was too young for the Vietnam War but has a keen interest in it and had just returned from a tour. It was during this tour that somehow he met Aussie, Al Davis, who many know runs the Ned Kelly Eureka Pub at Vung Tau with his wife, Anh who listed on his website that my tag and a full set of another soldier's tags had been found. Steve took it upon himself to attempt to locate both of us by telephone and steer us towards their recovery. After six calls, he was able to locate the other guy and tracked me down on the second call attempt.

I quickly got on to Al's website, confirmed the finding and couldn't wait to get that tag back in my possession but it was a matter of how to do this without loss or damage in transit. Pam and I had only returned from a tour of Vietnam late last year (first time back in 38 years and what great therapy it was) and were already planning our next trip in 2008 but I knew I couldn't wait until then. We made some great friends with the Vietnamese people while we were there so I thought perhaps I could get one of them to collect and hold them for me until I return but again I was too eager for that.

Al put all these ideas quickly to rest when he informed me by email that the tags had already left Vietnam with an ex Viet Vet from WA, Owen "Obie" Evans (6RAR second tour). It seems Owen and two mates, David Roach (110 Sig Sqn) and Les Dienhoff (3 RAR second tour) were touring around their old stomping grounds in Nui Dat on motorbikes in February when approached by a couple of local Vietnamese kids seeking money, one with an old metal detector and the other with an old entrenching tool and my partial dog tag. My tag was purchased for about AUD1-80. There was literally no English spoken by either boy but they managed to sign language them over to the house situated near the old airstrip and produced the second full set of dog tags on hootchie cord for Paul Conboy (7RAR) which were also bought for a little over AUD4-00 - a great days trading for the kids and an even better discovery for Paul and I.

I exchanged emails with Owen and within days my tag arrived by registered mail allTrevor Magrath holding his long-lost dog tag packaged up. There was much excitement as I opened the package to find the partial remains of my original dog tag - in three pieces and may have been subjected to fire at some stage but still containing sufficient information to decipher my details. As you can imagine, I was, and still am, ecstatic at having it back after so long. Because of the constant need to wear dog tags, its loss was almost like losing part of ME and now recovering it nearly 40 years later, when I never gave any hope of this ever happening.

The one single reminder I had of its absence for so long came from a frame my wife gave me as a very special surprise 25th wedding anniversary gift (even that seems and probably is a long time ago) - a mounting of all my Army memorabilia including medals, two dog tags (the original and the "imitation", Peace symbol, Discharge Certificate, even a photo of me lying in a hammock under the rubber trees in our base camp at Nui Dat. This is something I really treasure and will now be complete once I add the genuine dog tag to the mounting. I have even been provided with some green hootchie cord by a current Army mate to 'tie' off all loose ends so to speak.

I am truly indebted and grateful to Owen, Les and David for their efforts in recognizing the sentimental value and returning it to me and also to Al Davis and particularly Steve Howe (whose contact details I unfortunately never obtained) for the roles they played in this recovery. Next year, when we return to Vietnam I may venture back to Nui Dat again to track down these kids to hear their piece of this puzzle and possibly make similar purchases to fulfill the lives of other Vietnam Veterans' as it has for me.

These days I must say I am far more receptive to receiving telephone calls at dinner-time as you never know where it may lead!!!

Regards,

Trevor Magrath
5RAR 2nd Tour
Support Company & BHQ

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