Published August 25, 2013
Lanny Martinson left a lot in Vietnam: parts of himself, both physical and emotional.
The U.S. Marine Corps veteran lost his right leg in a minefield outside Khe Sanh in 1968. He relinquished his youth in that field, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt.
In June, his 45-year-long healing process took another, giant step forward.
Thanks to a cadre of Good Samaritans, and notably an Australian citizen, the Texas resident has regained something very important to him: his once long-lost dog tags.
“Overwhelming,” Martinson told The San Diego Union-Tribune, of the remarkable recovery of the lost tags and their reunion in June with their rightful owner after more than 40 years. “It’s like I left a part of me over there and somehow it’s made its way back to me from a dark place.”
The story dates to June 1968, reports the Lake County News Chronicle of Two Harbors, Minn., when a 24-year-old Martinson lost his leg – and tags – in the Khe Sanh minefield, where six others lost their lives.
“I just figured they’d gotten rid of them when they ripped off my clothes to operate on me,” Martinson reportedly said.
Afterwards, the Sugar Land, Texas, resident, who originally hails from Two Harbors, returned home to retrofit his broken body and psyche.
“A lot of guys, when they come back, they’re trying to replace that feeling and it takes a while to get over that,” he told The News Chronicle. “You need to talk about it. It kind of scares you. (I advise vets to) sit down and write about it. Expect to have tears running down your face, but just do it. It will do you good.”
In 2011, Martinson reportedly completed “After the Rush,” a still-unpublished book about his combat experiences.
It was also in 2011, the Union-Tribune reports, when John Naismith, an Australian who teaches English as a Second Language to Vietnamese youth, stumbled upon Martinson’s long-lost dog tags while trekking through the Southeast Asian nation’s brush.
Naismith reportedly could not find Martinson’s name among the rolls of those killed during the conflict.
Eventually the Aussie gave the tags to Charlie Fagan, a friend who, according to the Union-Tribune, owns Good Time Charlie’s, a California motorcycle shop.
Fagan contacted a Vietnam vet concerning the tags, and soon Tanna Toney-Ferris, who lives in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, learned of the predicament.
“Everybody’s put on this earth for a reason,” the 54-year-old self-described housewife told the Union-Tribune. “I guess this is mine.”
Toney-Ferris reportedly wrote of the tags on numerous veterans’ websites and sent a friend request to a Vietnam vet Facebook page, where the administrator, Floridian Bob “Sparky" Sparks saw it.
“We gotta do this,” Sparks said, according to the Union-Tribune.
In June, Sparks posted about the long-lost tags on a Marine network claiming some 550,000 members. Eventually, one member located Martinson and phoned. Another messaged him through Facebook.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Martinson reportedly wrote in an email to Sparks. “It brings it all back again; the men I lost, whose names are on the Wall, and the wounded that are now like me. I am trying to write this with tears running down my cheeks.”