46 years later, two Marines return dog tags to a Vietnam veteran

By Brett Gillin

Arnold “Bud” Pate surely never thought he’d see them again: the dog tags he lost while serving in Vietnam back in 1968. Thanks to a couple of his fellow Marines, however, Pate has been reunited with his dog tags, 46 years after he lost them in battle.

Pate decided to serve his country when he was just 17 years old. He joined the Marines at that tender young age, knowing that one day, he would be fighting in Vietnam. Pate told reporters from WJHL “As a young man, I’d see news reels of World War II, and I just thought I wanted to be a Marine.” After joining the service, it wasn’t long before he was shipped overseas to fight.

“I left here in October of ’67 and got wounded the 12th day of May, 1968,” Pate explained. “I can remember it just like it was yesterday.”

That day, May 12th of ’68, then Gunnery Sergeant Pate was crossing a bridge when he was severely injured by an explosion. “We came to the bridge and we came across it like single file,” Pate told reporters. “When the explosion went off, it got my arm. It just kind of slung my arm around my body like that and I knew then. The pain wasn’t as severe as you would think, but it hurt.”

The explosion took Pate’s arm and sent his dog tags flying off his body. Pate was evacuated by the military and brought to a hospital. When he arrived there, he was told that there was no way his arm could be salvaged. Later that day, he realized that his dog tags were missing as well

“After I went all them different places, all I wore was hospital gowns and I don’t ever remember dog tags hanging around my neck,” Pate explained. Pate probably never expected to see his battle-worn dog tags again, but he received a surprise in the mail a few weeks ago.

Pate received a letter from Bill and Tim Dekryger, two U.S. Marine Veterans, who explained that they thought they had found Pate’s dog tags during a recent trip to Vietnam.

Tim Dekryger told reporters “we were walking down the street [in Vietnam] and came across a street vendor that had a whole bunch of U.S. military gear.” Included in that gear were dozens of dog tags. When the thought about how important these pieces of history would be to their original owners and their families, they made a decision. They decided they would buy every dog tag they could find, then try to find their owners.

“We got the dog tags, because we wanted to get them out of the souvenir market and because we wanted to try to return them to their rightful owners,” Bill Dekryger told reporters. To date, out of the 87 dog tags they purchased, only four have found their way home, including most recently Pate’s.

Pate told reporters, when asked what he thought when he first read the letter: “I though this is a scam. That’s the first thing I thought.” Then, upon further inspection, he changed his mind. “It’s got my name, it’s got my blood time, it’s also got my branch of the service and also that I was a Baptist. I am pretty sure that this is mine. Just to think after 40 some years they found that.”

The Dekryger’s have set up a website to try to give back the rest of their dog tags: www.dogtagscomehome.com.


Image credit: Japan (March 3, 2010) A Sailor assigned to the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 49) and a Marine from III Marine Expeditionary Force reflect on the dog tags left by U.S. service members atop Mount Suribachi, Iwo To, formerly know as Iwo Jima. Military personnel and World War II veterans are commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Tortuga arrived off the coast of Iwo To on Feb. 28 to support the ceremony. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. K. Madison Carter/Released)


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