The U.S. Marine Corps dog tag being peddled by a war artifacts seller caught Charles Thompson's eye when he was vacationing with friends in Vietnam. He plunked down the equivalent of about $3 for the piece of metal, with the hope of returning it — he assumed — to the family of the fallen Marine.
After hours of Internet searching over the course of the next year, the resident of Weybridge, England, was pleasantly surprised to learn the Marine was still alive.
On Thursday morning, Thompson will give the tag back to Richard Tilghman Jr., a New Canaan, Connecticut, resident who lost it in Vietnam in 1968. The exchange will take place in New York City on a Fox News Channel show.
"I'm looking forward to it," Tilghman, 71, told The Associated Press. "The dog tags bring up a lot of memories. The initiative Charlie took to buy it and keep going to track the family down ... is very commendable, and I really appreciate the effort."
Tilghman came home from the war with one of his dog tags, but he doesn't remember losing the other.
Thompson, a 26-year-old who works in investment management at BNY Mellon in London, came across the tag just south of the city of Hue on the central Vietnam coast. He and his friends stopped by a cleared area that had old, rusted tanks, helicopters and other military equipment.
The tag was in a tray with other war artifacts on a shopping stand. The tag indicated it belonged to an R.A. Tilghman Jr., a Marine who was an Episcopalian.
"I just felt at that time what a wonderful opportunity to ... try to track down the person and hopefully send it home," Thompson said. "I assumed the person was dead."
In the following months after returning home, Thompson said his initial online searches turned up nothing.
The aha moment came when Thompson found a webpage with information on Tilghman's 20th high school reunion. The page had a military photo of Tilghman and referred to his time as an aerial observer during the war in the same province where Thompson found the tag.
"That really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand," Thompson said. "From there it became quite easy."
He found out that Tilghman worked for Mischler Financial Group in Stamford, which includes among its clients BNY Mellon. Thompson found Tilghman's email address and sent him a message with a photo of the tag on Dec. 1.
"It was clearly mine," Tilghman said of the tag. "I read Charlie's account ... and was amazed he had found it and had taken the effort to track me down."
BNY Mellon set up Thompson's return of the tag to Tilghman in New York, instead of having Thompson just mail it.
Thompson arrived in New York last Saturday and met Tilghman the next day. Thompson, however, has kept the tag locked away at his hotel, waiting to hand it to Tilghman on live TV.
Tilghman plans to store the tag in a box of assorted war memorabilia.