WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A piece of military and personal history is back in the hands of a veteran’s family. Nearly half a century after he lost them in Vietnam, Richard Wiler’s family now has their dad’s dog tags back.
Nearly 20 years ago a man named Ray Milligan was on a medical aid mission in Vietnam when he bought about 400 dog tags being sold by a street vendor. One of them was Richard Wiler’s.
The Cape Fear Chapter of the Nam Knights made the trip from North Carolina to New Jersey and back, giving families like the Wilers a special moment to honor their father.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Wiler’s son Jeff said. “It’s really cool, I’ll probably wear them for a few days before I pull them off.”
Jeff and his brother Andrew got their father Richard’s dog tags Thursday.Richard Wiler died in 2001, but Jeff still calls Wilmington home.
“When (Cape Fear Nam Knight’s member) Bob Pavlik came up, and he said, ‘Here. Found your dad’s dog tags. Got a hold of you,’ it was real cool,” Jeff said. “My dad didn’t talk much at all about Vietnam, so then I started digging in and finding things out.”
Through research and conversations with his mother, Jeff and Andrew found out all about their father’s years in Vietnam. Richard earned two Purple Heart medals for his service in the Army in the late 1960s.
“For us to see them bring the dog tags and make such a big deal and drive them down here for us and have the grandkids here… it’s just been an honor to have everyone recognize his work,” Andrew Wiler said.
Veterans like the Nam Knights, who helped make all this possible, feel like they are simply doing their duty. And they aren’t done yet.
“We have 51 chapters up and down the east coast, and we plan on keep going with this thing until all the dog tags are returned home,” Pavlik said.
So far out of the 400 dog tags recovered, more than 90 have been returned to the veteran or their family.