Businessman finds G.I. dog tags in old Saigon
Two Florida businessmen were scouting the commercial climate in Vietnam when they came across U.S. servicemen's dog tags in a back-alley market in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. The two men are now trying to get the dog tags to the servicemen's families. The mother of a serviceman killed in Vietnam was to be presented with the dog tags of her son on the Fourth of July at a cemetery in Orlando, Florida. CNN anchor Leon Harris spoke to one of the two men, Rob Stiff.
HARRIS: Now, this is quite an unusual story. You say that you found these dog tags in a store. How much were they being sold for?
STIFF: Some six, seven for a dollar. But we actually didn't know how much the dog tags cost until we returned solely to buy the dog tags.
HARRIS: As I understand it, though, when you saw this one set, it inspired to you go looking for more?
STIFF: Absolutely. Well, like I mentioned earlier, we went in January of this year. And that's when we saw them. We were sickened by what we saw. We had left without buying them. And for four months we talked about going back just to buy these tags. And, yes, in fact, we did go to other places.
HARRIS: So, what did you do, just walk around town to different shops?
STIFF: Well, we felt it wouldn't be that easy to do that. We actually used the rickshaw bike drivers to help us work from the inside, because they speak the language and they know the area. And we felt that was the most efficient way to do it.
HARRIS: And how many did you come across?
STIFF: Approximately 620 we brought back.
HARRIS: You brought back 620 dog tags? Do you know whether or not these were all from men who had been killed? Had they been lost or something like that? Do you know more stories about these tags?
STIFF: We're getting a lot of e-mails from our Web site we post at founddogtags.com. But we're learning it as we go. There [are] many stories.
HARRIS: Are you concerned at all that these -- I know someone has raised the question with you, I know -- but are you concerned that some of these might have been fake, actually, and planted there?
STIFF: Well, when you are buying six, seven for a dollar, maybe they are fake, but we don't think so. Another thing is that the question is not, "Are they fake?" but is, "Are they real?" And if in fact they are real, we need to get these back to the families.
HARRIS: Yes. And you are pretty convinced that the ones that you are going to be presenting to this one family today are real. Tell us their story.
STIFF: Well, it was amazing because Jim, the gentleman I went over with on this trip, came into my office one morning and said, "You won't believe this. We have a match to an Allan George Decker, who left Orlando in 1968 and never returned alive." Now, being from Orlando, we were able to use the office of Congressman Ric Keller to locate the mother, Ruth Decker, who will be receiving the dog tag today on her birthday, where Allan and her husband are buried.
HARRIS: No kidding? What did she say when you called her?
STIFF: She was absolutely amazed, full of joy -- a wonderful woman, a woman who has been through a great deal of life-moving events. And it's going to be -- it's truly a blessing to get it back to her.
HARRIS: Now, did this incident strike you or touch you because of your relations with the military? Did you serve in the military, or your partner?
STIFF: Well, no, actually. Jim's father served in Vietnam, whereas I was born -- I'm 27 years old -- I was born the year the war ended. And I really can't relate or begin to even appreciate or understand what these families went through back then. But all I know is that if I had a loved one over there that had a dog tag, I would want it back.
HARRIS: And you have come up now with 620. Are they all legible? Is it easy to figure out [the printing]? I know they have got to be somewhat beaten up a bit. It's been quite a few years.
STIFF: Yes, actually, some were -- over 30 years -- been lying around there in this Saigon area. Most of them are quite legible. About 400 of the 620 are.
HARRIS: And let's see. Let's get that Web site once again. You have a Web site where people can go and check and see whether or not the dog tags they may be looking for can be found.
STIFF: Absolutely. It's www.founddogtags.com.
HARRIS: That is an amazing story. And that is an amazing find. And this is going to be an even more amazing afternoon when you do reunite this family -- at least in memory -- with their loved one.
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