Returned Vietnam-era ID tag eases father's grief
August 30, 2005
Haynes Dugger lost his son, Army 1st Lt. Douglas Alan Dugger, in Vietnam. More than 30 years later, he got a phone call from a man he did not know.
“He said, ‘Mr. Dugger,’ he says, ‘I have your son’s dog tag,’” said Dugger, of Spruce, Mich.
The man on the phone, former Army Sgt. Maj. Jim Svoboda, had accompanied the bodies of fallen troops back from Vietnam, Dugger said.
“He said, ‘I brought him home,’” the senior Dugger said.
Dugger said he remembers New Year’s Day 1969 when an Army lieutenant told him his son was missing. The next day, the lieutenant returned, he said.
“I said, did they find him, and he said, ‘Yes,’” Dugger said.
This July, Dugger attended a ceremony commemorating Michigan troops killed in Vietnam. It featured the Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Washington Vietnam Veterans Memorial that has been touring the country for almost 20 years.
A white balloon was released into the air as each of the names of the fallen were read, he said.
Shortly after his son’s name was read, Dugger was talking with a friend near his truck when a balloon landed at his feet, he said. “It had to be my son telling me, ‘Dad I’m still with you and everything is fine here,” Dugger wrote in a letter, which he left at the Moving Wall in Oscoda, Mich.
In the letter, Dugger thanked his son for the visit. “It won’t be too far in the future that we will be together again, this time forever,” he wrote.
Svoboda said he read about the incident in the local newspaper.
The Tawas City, Mich., man said he had served three tours in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne, 5th Special Forces Group. He said he was tasked with accompanying fallen troops back to the United States and would put one dog tag in each of the troops’ pockets to make sure the right body got to the right funeral home.
Svoboda said he would keep the other dog tag and ended up with more than 100 of them. He said he asked the Army what to do with them and was told to give them to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
After he called Dugger, the two met, and Svoboda gave Dugger his son’s dog tag. “He was overwhelmed. He’s had this grief with him for 37 years, and I think I helped,” Svoboda said.
Dugger began crying when he recounted getting his son’s dog tag. “Really and truly … I feel like he’s home,” Dugger said.