- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

CHESTER, Va. | Sandy Larson’s simple act of human decency germinated in Vietnam, grew in Fargo, N.D., and bloomed in Gray Taylor’s living room in Chester.

Mr. Taylor came home from his job as a teacher at Thomas Dale High School one day last month, opened the mail and found something he didn’t even know was missing: a dog tag he had left in Vietnam more than 38 years earlier.

“Talk about bringing back a flood of memories just in time for Veterans Day,” he said.

Mr. Taylor’s memories of his Army tour in Vietnam would have remained largely dormant had it not been for a trip that Ms. Larson, a licensed social worker with the Cass County, N.D., Social Services Office, took to Vietnam with one of her former clients.

While in Ho Chi Minh City, Ms. Larson went to a street market and found a table scattered with hundreds of dog tags. She didn’t like that the property of soldiers was being sold for profit.

“It just didn’t seem right,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could return these to their rightful owners?”’

So Ms. Larson picked out three tags that had names she figured could be traced easily, paid the vendor about $1.50, and brought them back to Fargo.

When she returned to work, she walked down the hall to see Mike Vandrovec, a service representative for the Cass County Veterans’ Service Office.

“We take care of veterans,” said Mr. Vandrovec, who spends most of his time matching former military personnel with benefits.

Faced for the first time with trying to match a missing dog tag with a former soldier, Mr. Vandrovec turned to the Internet, which quickly led him to Mr. Taylor.

The other two veterans have not been located, but Mr. Taylor got his dog tag back a few weeks ago.

Mr. Taylor was sent to Vietnam on Sept. 30, 1969, with F Troop, 17th Armored Cavalry, 196th Light Infantry Battalion. His unit was stationed not far from Chu Lai and was charged with keeping open a section of Highway 1 for transporting goods.

“We had our moments,” said Mr. Taylor, his tone dropping as he recalled losing 11 comrades in a heavy firefight on Dec. 26, 1969, immediately after a Christmas cease-fire.

“For about 18, 19 years, I struggled at Christmas,” he said. “Do I cry at Christmas? I still cry, but I don’t go into that deep depression. I don’t have that anguish like I used to.”

Mr. Taylor thinks he lost his tag when he was preparing to come home on Oct. 1, 1970, when the Army issued him a new uniform, including new boots.

The tag - soldiers are given two and instructed to wear one around their neck and put the other in their boots - probably was left in his old boots, he said.

These days, he’s wearing his long-lost tag around his neck, both at Thomas Dale and when he visits prisons as part of his volunteer ministry work with former military personnel who are incarcerated.

Mr. Taylor, 61, has spoken with Ms. Larson and Mr. Vandrovec to offer his thanks.

“Why mine was one of the three that was purchased and why I was the only one who has been found, I’m not sure,” he said. “But I certainly appreciate all they did.”

Mr. Taylor is counting on his faith to guide him.

“I haven’t figured out the purpose yet of why I got this back after all these years,” he said. “There’s got to be a purpose. I have to wait and listen. That’s what the Scriptures say: Be still and listen.”

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