The US Marine died before the tag could be found but his family will cherish this piece of history forever.
According to Carl Hughes, the son of Corporal Larry Hughes, his father, lost his military dog tag while serving in Vietnam nearly six decades ago. He never spoke about the missing tag. "He was a man of few words - he never talked about his service," Hughes, 44, stated. "When he came home, he just put it all behind him and moved forward with his life." Hughes was speechless upon hearing that his father's tag had been discovered on a farmer's keychain in a small Vietnamese village, per The Washington Post. He recounted, "We were amazed at how everything fell into place to get the tag back to us."
Hughes added that his father passed away in 2019. The story of how Larry Hughes' family finally received his dog tag on February 17 was a four-month-long process that involved former U.S. Senator from Virginia Jim Webb, 30 college students and a Vietnamese rice paddy farmer. In late 2022, Webb, who served as a platoon commander, led the Notre Dame students on an 11-day tour of Vietnam based on his own experiences.
During their tour, the group visited the deserted An Hoa Airstrip, an area infamous during the Vietnam War as the "Arizona Territory," where combat was particularly intense and bloody. Webb, who fought there with the Marines in 1969 and 1970, wanted to show the students some old battlefield sites. "I wanted them to understand what it was like to fight on the ground during the Vietnam War," he explained. "The Marines lost 14,490 men during the war and more than 7,000 of them died in the An Hoa Basin." While exploring the area near the airstrip, a villager on a bicycle approached the group, as Webb recalled: "He told us he had a dog tag that he kept on his keychain." Webb, who speaks Vietnamese, was able to communicate with the villager.
The story of how Larry Hughes's family received his dog tag on Feb. 17 was four months in the making and involves former U.S. senator from Virginia Jim Webb, 30 college students and a Vietnamese rice paddy farmer.https://t.co/VVhpJlLVgC— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) February 27, 2023
Upon examining the tag, Webb noticed it bore the name "L.A. Hughes," along with the deceased's blood type, service number and religion (Baptist). Michael Desch, an international relations professor at the University of Notre Dame who was also on the tour, recounted that he offered the man $20 for the dog tag and he accepted the offer. According to Desch, the man had found the tag in the mud while working in rice paddies and that he came across many dog tags in his work.
After returning to the United States, Webb fulfilled his promise of tracking down the family of Larry Hughes. "Here we were standing on this airstrip where Marines had fought and died, and along comes this dog tag after all these years," Webb reflected. "To me, it was symbolic. He represented every Marine. I wanted to find his family for every Marine who fought in Vietnam." With assistance from the Marines' U.S. Senate Liaison office, Webb discovered that Hughes was interred at a veterans cemetery in Inglis, Florida, 90 miles north of Tampa, his hometown.
According to Webb, in late December, a Marine caseworker reached out to the mayor of Inglis, Michael Andrew White, which led to connecting with people in the community who remembered the Hughes family, including Larry Hughes's two sons. Carl Hughes, one of his sons, confirmed that his father was a rifleman at An Hoa Combat Base in the same area where Webb had fought. Although White did not know Hughes, he was eager to assist. "It was a great feeling for us all to know that he was going to be recognized," White said. Inglis is a town with a population of about 1,500 residents. Hughes worked as a boilermaker for most of his life and passed away at the age of 72 due to a heart attack, as confirmed by Carl Hughes.
Hughes said, "He never mentioned his service when I was growing up, but a few years ago, I took my dad to a traveling exhibit of the Vietnam Wall. My dad was looking at the names when he spotted the name of somebody he knew. He sat there in silence for five minutes, just staring at the wall." Last week, Larry Hughes's family, including his sister Patricia Hughes Prickett, gathered at the Inglis Town Hall to retrieve his dog tag that had been lost for nearly sixty years. Prickett said, "My brother was treated terribly and called a 'baby killer' when he came home from the war. This ceremony to honor him so many years later brought tears to my eyes." She added, "It was like Larry had come home for a visit. To have his dog tag come to us from miles away, around the world? I could barely believe it."