During World War II training in the Arizona desert in 1942, Army soldier James Thompson lost his dog tag. The tag worn around the neck that identify soldiers lay buried in the sand for 75 years until a metal detector found it. They were there buried when war hero James Thompson died in 2003 at age 82.
But the detector, Chad Vinck, did more than find the tag. He found the family of the late James Thompson in Rock Hill, and shipped the tag to them so they could remember their father’s heroism.
“It means so much that some stranger would care so much to send us the tag that my father lost in training,” said Bobby Thompson, James’ Thompson’s son. “It is so much more than metal. It is a part of my father and all he gave up to go to war for his country.”
The dog tag story is simple. James Thompson from near Binghamton, N.Y., enlisted at age 21 after Pearl Harbor and was training for what was expected to be North Africa desert warfare. The training tag that had his mother’s name and address on it was lost, and he was issued a new one with name, rank and serial number.
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“We figure he was out there crawling on his belly in the desert and it fell off,” son Bobby Thompson said.
All these decades later, Vinck who lives near Phoenix, was out with a detector buddy in Arizona where he found all kinds of bullets and fragments and shell casings. And more - the dog tag for somebody named James Thompson.
“I wondered if this soldier even made it out of that war,” Vinck said by telephone from Arizona. “I wondered if he had a family. My grandfather was a World War II veteran.”
Vinck researched online and through Facebook eventually found Thompsons’ granddaughter and son, and then shipped the tag at his own expense.
“James Thompson was a real hero and his family deserved that tag,” Vinck said.
Stacie Thompson Lewis of Rock Hill, James Thompson’s granddaughter, has a display of countless items of her grandfather’s life and military service - including the dog tag that her grandfather carried through the war’s fiercest battles as a mortar team corporal. James Thompson saw so much combat in Europe that one old photo shows him with seven others - and all the rest were later wounded or killed in action.
“For some man in Arizona to care about a stranger and his family - it is a gift we will treasure forever,” Stacie Lewis said.