Veteran reunited with lost dog tags after 54 years

The tags were found in a Vietnam soldier mass grave
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 10:19 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - “It’s just kind of amazing after all these years,” said Dennis Kostendader, a Vietnam War veteran.

But amazing only begins to describe the feeling for Kostendader. For the first time in 54 years, he is proudly wearing his military dog tags around his neck.

They were lost in 1967 while he was fighting in Vietnam, but they were found by the Vietnamese government while digging up a mass grave of their unidentified soldiers.

The process of getting the tags back around Dennis neck was overseen by Glenn Hines who works for the POW and MIA Families Organization.

“They had an official hand over of the dog tags from the Vietnamese government to the American government and they were mailed back to the U.S.,” said Hines.

After the tags arrived here, Hines flew from Florida to hand deliver them, an act that means the world to Kostendader and his family.

“We were totally shocked that someone was actually coming here to present it to him in person,” said Paula Sherrick, Kostendader’s twin sister. “He was really excited...It gave me goose bumps seeing him put them on again.”

But, the story takes a turn.

“I don’t ever remember losing them,” said Kostendader. “Don’t remember it at all.”

Hines says because Kostendader doesn’t remember how or why he lost the tags, they don’t know how they ended up in a Vietnamese mass grave.

“The only things I can think of is one, Dennis was participating in a burial putting the bodies in a pit but he doesn’t recall doing that,” said Hines. “Or they fell off him at some point Vietnamese soldier picked them up put it in his pocket and then when he was killed they ended up there.”

The tags are now another priceless piece added to a long list honors including a silver star-- the third highest military combat declaration and four purple hearts-- awarded to Kostendader for protecting his country.

But despite all of his service, Kostendader says he doesn’t consider himself a hero.

“I just think about how lucky I was. I shouldn’t have survived,” said Kostendader. “I should not have. "

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