HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Almost 50 years after he returned from war, a Vietnam veteran is finally getting the homecoming he deserved – and the story begins with a pair of lost dog tags.
"When I got [his] phone call, I was thrown off," said Major Jeff Hickman, the Hawaii Department of Defense's Public Affairs Officer.
Major Hickman says he was first contacted by Tom Peterson back in December. The Vietnam veteran told Hickman that he was headed to Hawaii for a visit and wanted to know if his lost dog tags had ever turned up in the National Guard's lost and found.
Peterson says they went missing shortly after he returned to Oahu from Vietnam.
"I went over in February 1969," said Peterson.
During the nine months the Saint Louis School graduate was there, Peterson spent much of his time in the field at a fire support base.
"Basically trying to survive. Luckily, I was never in any frontal assault," said Peterson.
When he flew back to Hawaii, he remembers arriving late at night. There wasn't really anyone there to greet him.
"That's one of the most controversial wars our country has had," said Major Hickman. "They didn't get that welcome back."
"We had a chance to do it now," he added.
During that phone call, Major Hickman told Peterson he'd have a new pair of dog tags made and to come to Barber's Point to pick them up. The 76-year-old had no idea that he'd be greeted with a hero's reception when he arrived.
"I was overwhelmed because that was the first real greeting I had when I came home," said Peterson.
"When he said he didn't get a welcome back ceremony, and this was it, there were tears in the front row," said Major Hickman.
In addition to printing the tags in the Vietnam format, the chain they're on was worn in Afghanistan by a fellow veteran who heard Peterson's story and wanted him to have it.
"So this chain has gone through a different war," said Peterson. "I'll treasure them for the rest of my life."