Arizona desert hunter finds veteran's dog tags missing for 75 years

WWII veteran's dog tags found in Arizona desert

PEORIA, Ariz. - Chad Vinck is history buff and a dirt lover.

Yes, a dirt lover.

Mostly what lies beneath the soil. His knowledge of the land, specifically in Peoria, may be second to none.

Vinck sits on the Peoria Arizona Historical Society board of directors. The history buff spends hours upon hours searching the land with his metal detector for clues and links to the past.

Through the years he has found toys, coins, antique car parts even marbles.

“It’s about the adventure, getting out there with your machine and digging up the surprise that awaits you,” said Vinck.

A few weeks ago, Vinck was detecting with a friend about 150 west of Gila Bend. He wasn't having much luck when all of a sudden he got a hit.

“When I pulled it out of the ground, it was like digging up a gold bar. I was so thrilled,” said Vinck.

It wasn’t a gold bar but it was valuable, just not the monetary type.

“I made it my mission to find the owner,” said Vinck.

The item, lost in 1942, belonged to Army soldier James L. Thompson. The veteran of three wars lost his dog tags during his training in the Arizona desert.

“I took a picture and called my friends right away,” said Vinck.

He then went on the internet to research Thompson and see if he could find him. The search would eventually lead him to a family friend that connected Vinck with Thompson’s granddaughter and then son.

“He didn’t know his father trained in Arizona,” said Vinck.

The two men spoke for a few minutes before Thompson hinted he would like the dog tags and even offered to pay.

“I told him 'I will just give it to you,'” said Vinck.

The tags were placed in the mail and sent to Bobby Thompson in North Carolina.

“It means everything to us,” said Thompson.

Vinck sent a few other items he found in the area to Thompson in hopes it would give him a link of sorts to his father’s past.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Vinck.

The desert hunter calls searching the desert with his metal detector an “obsession” that teaches him about the past, while keeping him excited him about the future.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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