Retired Army Sgt. Donald P. Winterhalter of Brookline, New Hampshire, served in the 82nd Airborne Division in Vietnam for nine months in 1969, when he lost the ID.
So he was surprised when a pair of Vermonters, Dinh Vu and Don Edwards, contacted him recently about the dog tag. After a series of emails and phone calls, he agreed to meet the two neighbors at Brookline restaurant Chrysanthi's.
"It was an incredible story, it really was. After 46 years, [the dog tag] wasn't something I was thinking about," Winterhalter, 69, said.
In mid-July, Vu asked Edwards for help finding the owner of an old dog tag his mother-in-law had given him when he returned home four years ago for a visit to Vietnam. The dental lab assistant said his mother-in-law started her own business in Vietnam making suitcases and backpacks out of old uniforms in 1983. Seven or eight years later, Vu said, his brother-in-law and his wife stumbled across the dog tag in the backyard in Hoc Mon, Vietnam.
"They were playing in the backyard and found the dog tag," Vu told ABC News. "It was a reddish color and he told my wife it looked like blood so they showed it to my mother-in-law who thought the owner had died."
Vu's mother-in-law then kept the identification tag for decades before giving it to Vu under one condition:
"My job was to return the dog tags; that was my mission. I just did my part. Mission accomplished."
Edwards said the dog tag was in good condition with only a couple of scuff marks, and the "blood stains" were only surface rust.
Edwards, himself a Desert Storm veteran, was returning home from a motorcycle ride honoring a fallen veteran when Vu asked for his help. The Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association member reached out to Capt. Zachariah Fike, founder of Purple Hearts Reunited, who located Winterhalter through a database.
The nonprofit is dedicated to returning lost or stolen medals of valor to veterans and their families.
Edwards insisted that he and Vu hand back the dog tag in person.
"It's different speaking with someone about it and having something in your hand that represents you of that time period," Edwards said. “It means much more than going through the mail. I not only want to meet this gentleman but thank him for his service. Being in an organization full of combat vets, it's always nice to meet vets from the Vietnam era.”
Winterhalter said he plans to keep the dog tag safe in his desk.