Veteran’s lost dog tag returned
John Crazy Bear, who served for more than two decades in the
Marine Corps, received the dog tag he lost during the Vietnam
War in a ceremony aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The
ceremony started with a viewing of morning colors aboard the
base, March 17.
It is a story of distant travels, perseverance and time, but one
more name has made it home from Vietnam; John Crazy Bear. The
three-war veteran and retired gunnery sergeant, was reunited
with the dog tag he lost during the Vietnam War in a ceremony
held aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, March 17.
Crazy Bear, a Lakota Sioux Native American who was orphaned as a
child, enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of 14. He
hitchhiked more than 400 miles to join a service he admits he
knew almost nothing about.
“One of the biggest
mistakes I made really paid off,”
said Crazy Bear, remembering the circumstances that began his
22-year career as a Marine.
“That was the proudest moment of
my life when I was called a Marine. I was called a lot of things
before that, but Marine meant more than anything.”
Crazy Bear enlisted in 1945 after lying about his age.
his career in World War II, went on to endure the biting cold of
the “Frozen Chosin” in Korea, where he received a Purple Heart,
and served in Vietnam.
On his 81st birthday, he watched the sun
rise above MCB Camp Lejeune, unaware that only minutes later he
would be reunited with a piece of his past.
It was a moment made possible by a humanitarian mission to
Vietnam in the 1990s. Ray Milligan, a former Force Recon Marine,
collected several hundred dog tags while working with a medical
mission designed to help children in third-world countries.
Milligan, bothered by the fact that American dog tags were being
sold as souvenirs in the streets of Vietnam, purchased the tags
in the hopes of returning them to the U.S.
Over the years, Milligan and others worked to return as many of
the dog tags as they could. They eventually handed the project
over to the POW/MIA Awareness Committee of New Jersey. The
committee teamed up with members of the Nam Knights of America
motorcycle club, who brought Crazy Bear’s dog tag to MCB Camp
On March 15, members of the Nam Knights embarked on one last
mission with Crazy Bear’s tag and traveled 500 miles to return
it to Crazy Bear’s chest, once more within reach of the
heartbeat that kissed it during his many years of service.
Sixty-seven years after joining the Marine Corps, Crazy Bear’s
eyes welled with tears and his knees shook as he embraced his
long lost dog tag, home at last from a land thousands of miles
“I want to thank you for your service,” said Brit Henderson, a
member of the Delaware Chapter of the Nam Knights, as he
extended his arms towards Crazy Bear, his voice heavy with
emotion. “Welcome home and god bless you.”
Crazy Bear stood at the front of the room, surrounded by his
family, members of the Nam Knights, and his fellow Marines. It
was a small homecoming ceremony to be sure, but a symbol for
something far greater.
want to thank you all again,”
said Crazy Bear. “This
has been a real honor and I never expected it. I don’t know if
you saw the tears in my eyes. I’m just overjoyed and still proud
that my fellow Marines would respect me and invite me out to
something like this.”
Crazy bear put the dog tag around his neck and ran his fingers
over its worn surface. He could not remember how he lost the
tag, but said it was unlike the dog tags made during the Vietnam
War. His was older. It had a small notch on the tip and its
lettering was severely weathered.
But Crazy Bear could still make out the tag’s information: His
service number, his blood type, even his religious preference.
The small strands of information designed to identify each
service member and possibly even save their lives.
“It looks like it’s been through heck and high water,”
Crazy Bear. “But I think I’d rather have it than a Navy Cross.”
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