Friday, December 11, 2009

If You Find a Vietnam-era Dog Tag

TOP often receives inquiries from tourists, veterans and foreigners who visit Vietnam and come upon personal effects and dog tags. Many do not know what to do with them; most want to return them to veterans or family and ask for our help.

We appreciate these Good Samaritans who rescue these dog tags in Vietnam. TOP's policy and resources do not allow us to act as an intermediary for tag returns outside the TOP organization; we encourage them to donate the tags to TOP so we can integrate them into the process which we have developed over many years and steadfastly work to reunite them with their owners.

Additionally, many outside the TOP organization come upon tags of an unknown era--not in Vietnam. The majority of such finds are sometimes discovered in yard sales, spring cleaning, and likely not Vietnam related. In these cases, TOP's Personal Effects mission is solely for Vietnam-era tags. In the event someone may throw a tag or effect away, we invite them to donate such non-Vietnam-era effects to our military collection for public displays. TOP is aware of individuals who sell such effects & memorabilia on eBay; however, it is important to note that TOP will never sell these treasures. Non-Vietnam-era effects not used for TOP's public display, may sometimes be donated to other military (sometimes traveling) museums (not-for-profit).

Please visit the TOP website Personal Effects List and witness over 1,900 personal effects (mostly dog tags) that we are actively working to reunite with living veterans or the surviving families of veterans who were either killed in action or may have survived the war but have subsequently died.

Tours Of Peace (TOP) Vietnam Veterans is a nonprofit organization founded in 1998 by a Vietnam veteran Marine. Our mission provides veterans, their families, and surviving family members, with opportunities for healing from the Vietnam War.

TOP recognizes the importance of these dog tags to the veterans and families and strives to keep them from becoming just another tourist souvenir trinket. We appreciate the fact that you purchased these tags and wish to have them rightfully returned to their owners.

The current TOP dog tag inventory has been acquired in several ways, some of which include:

  • TOP recovers personal effects through contacts who collect them on our behalf. Additionally, purchases of personal effects sold in Vietnam can be made thanks to monetary gifts to TOP; as well, trip members assist with the recovery of effects in Vietnam (when we take veterans and their families to revisit the place where they were stationed and fought).

  • Donations from Vietnamese who know what we are trying to do and give them to us at no cost.

  • Donations from Americans and tourists from other countries who recognize their importance and want us to include them in our “reunion process”.

This process includes:

Authentication: TOP painstakingly authenticates each dog tag as legitimate--not counterfeit. We have both Vietnamese war veterans and American Vietnam Veterans go through them and weed out any fakes. We also verify as much information on the tags as possible, i.e., military ID #'s vs. name with the actual military database information, and information about those listed on "the Wall." Furthermore, we verify the place the tag was bought or donated, with the area the veteran or deceased served. (The pictured dog tag here is in its original condition before a careful cleaning revealed the tag data. Although TOP goes to great lengths not to disturb the initial appearance of how the tag was received, the condition of some tags require us to get to the data, in order to return the tag.)

  • Documentation: We maintain an extensive database of each tag and all information we have relevant to its discovery, condition and eventual resolution. Furthermore each dog tag is listed on our website in the hopes that the veteran or their family may actually “find us”. This does happen and the more returned tags we have the more the word is out and the more “hits” our website receives.

  • Research: Our research is very extensive and includes a number of website databases. We start first at The Wall, with information gathered at the various memorial websites for soldiers who were Killed In Action. Beyond that, we conduct a number of other searches, military reunion sites, military locator search engines and recently have expanded into genealogical resources with good success in locating the families of veterans.

  • Contact: We are sensitive to the emotional issues that often come up when a veteran or family is notified of the find. Once we feel we have a “match” the individuals are contacted by mail and given the opportunity to overcome the initial shock prior to them contacting us.

  • Verification: TOP is extremely careful that personal effects are matched correctly with the rightful recipients. Even once they contact us, we have a verification process to assure that our “match” is exact.
  • Special Delivery & Presentation: Our presentation to recipients is done respectfully and solemnly. Each dog tag is enclosed in dark velvet box, accompanied by a letter of appreciation and recognition. (Occasionally a TOP representative will make a personal presentation of the personal effect.) This is all done at no cost or expense to those receiving dog tags or personal effects--thanks to those who contribute to TOP and our Personal Effects Program. We do this as a memorial or recognition of gratitude for the service of the person named on the dog tag.

Due to privacy laws, unless the recipients give their permission, we do not report back to those who donate personal effects on the specifics on the recipients, however, we do note in our database & documentation where the tag was recovered and by whom in our files, in the event a recipient would ask to contact the donor. Those who contribute effects are encouraged to monitor the web site for updates on the status of their donated tags.

Should you have Vietnam-era personal effects, you wish to donate to TOP, we invite you to send them to us addressed as follows: TOP Vietnam Veterans, 8000 S. Kolb Road, Suite 43, Tucson, AZ 85756. It is recommended to send them Priority Mail and in a manner the package can be tracked. Please put tracking on them and let us know in advance that they are coming so we can watch for them and report back to you regarding their safe arrival.

To those who rescue these precious items and donate them to TOP, we are deeply grateful. Thank you!