WASHINGTON, September 18 -
Mr. Speaker, it was 2010 when Australian John Naismith traveled to Vietnam, a country rich with history, to teach English. During his fascinating time there, Naismith explored an old abandoned airstrip where the Battle of Khe Sanh took place in 1968. It was one of the bloodiest, most violent, and longest (January-July) battles of the Vietnam War between the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Americans--primarily U.S. Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen and South Vietnamese soldiers. In this mountainous, rainy, hot region of the former South Vietnam, Naismith discovered an old discolored aluminum dog tag shining lightly underneath the dirt. He picked it up. He held the dog tag in his hand, looked curiously at it, and wondered about the history of it.
The war had ended long ago; life started all over again for many. The area of the battle had changed. A museum had been built where the battle was once fought. But a dog tag remained where it was left behind--for 43 years--presumably belonging to an American Marine, likely a casualty of the Vietnam war.
It represented someone's past. It wasn't something that Naismith could put down. He carried it with him in hopes of putting together an image of a young American warrior who had worn the dog tag into the battle of Khe Sanh. Thus the search for history of the dog tag began.
The U.S. entered into the Vietnam War to prevent Communist North Vietnam from taking over South Vietnam. However, the number of U.S. casualties grew significantly during the war. Some Americans never returned home. Some returned with the wounds of war. Those wounds were both physical and mental. Until the war in Afghanistan, Vietnam was the longest war in U.S. history.
American bodies of the fallen and wounded were sometimes difficult to identify, so every member of the military wore, as their fathers had done in previous wars, dog tags. In Vietnam, one tag was put around the neck and the other laced onto the boot. The dog tags listed the American's initials, last name, blood type, serial number, gas mask size, and religion--everything anyone would need to know in order to identify the individual who fell in battle.
But this dog tag found 43 years later ..... to whom did it belong? Was the warrior dead or alive? Naismith was determined to find out. His first source was the United States Government, but after months of looking, it could provide no clues where the owner of the tag was or if he was alive or dead. Naismith poured through casualty lists and could find no record of the individual who owned the dog tag. He had hit a wall.
The Government continued to search its own records. Meanwhile, Naismith left Australia and traveled to the U.S., where he found others interested in finding out what had happened to the U.S. Marine. Naismith met up with his friend Charlie Fagan, owner of Good Time Charlie's Motorcycle Shop, in California. Motorcycle shops like Charlie's were aware of numerous motorcycle groups made up of old ``war horses'' from the Vietnam War. Naismith told Charlie the story of the dog tag and his two-year quest to find the dog tag's owner. Charlie knew of Tanna Toney-Ferris, a woman who worked intensely with Vietnam vets on numerous issues, including locating them. So, using social media, Tanna told the story of the dog tag. The dog tag saga spread rapidly across several online social networks and websites. Finally, in June 2013, ``Sparky'' in Florida posted the following message to an online Marine network: ``[H]elp me locate the owner of the USMC Vietnam Veteran's dog tag. [ ..... It was] found in Khe Sanh Vietnam 2 years ago by an Australian teacher. The name is L.P. Martinson. His name is NOT on the WALL, so he made it out of Vietnam.''
Finally, half way around the world in Afghanistan, Marine Staff Sergeant Joshua Laudermilk, on active duty, saw the post, called Information, and obtained Martinson's phone number. He then contacted Martinson by phone. The Marine had finally been located. U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Lanny P. Martinson, from Minnesota, was a part of the Khe Sanh Battle of South Vietnam. On June 4, 1968 his leg was blown away during the fighting. The 23-year-old Marine was carried off the battlefield and immediately taken to surgery. When he woke up, he did not realize neither of his dog tags were with him. Time passed and Lanny Martinson dealt with his war wounds best he could. He became successful in construction management in Minnesota. He worked until the VA granted him 00% disability in 1998 and he took up art and portrait painting. Four years ago, he and his wife Delphine moved to Texas.
When his daughter Bobby was 16 in 1998, she asked Martinson for his dog tags. She admired her warrior father and wanted the tags to wear to show he was part of the rare breed of Vietnam fighters. Martinson looked in his ``war chest'' and was surprised that they were not there. He surmised that the dog tag on the boot had been destroyed and the other tag was left behind on the battlefield. His guess had been right. It remained on that same battlefield for 43 years, until Naismith found it.
On August 20, 2013, Naismith and some of the other searchers got on motorcycles, left California and headed east--to Sugarland Texas. They took L.P. Martinson's dog tag with them. Three days later--45 years after Martinson was wounded in battle--Martinson and Naismith met for the first time at Martinson's home. The day after they met, a special ceremony was held in Missouri City, Texas, in honor of Sergeant Lanny P. Martinson, United States Marine Corps. More than 100 people attended the event, including motorcycle club members, Vietnam vets, citizens, and City Councilmember Danny Ngyuen--who was a young child living in South Vietnam during the war. Naismith presented Martinson the dog tag that had been left behind.
The Australian teacher and the U.S. Marine--now friends--plan to travel to Vietnam together. They will visit the battlefield of Khe Sanh where Martinson and his buddies valiantly fought, where he was wounded, and where a dog tag ..... was left behind.
Lanny Martinson intends to bequeath his dog tag to his daughter. And that's just the way it is.