It was the summer of 1968 when Ann Sandoval opened the door to find two Marines holding an American flag. Without a word, she had known what they were there for. Alfred Moreno, JR, a boy she was raising as her own, had died in battle in Vietnam.
Though Sandoval had tried to talk him out of enlisting, Moreno couldn’t think of anything better to die for than his rights as a U.S. citizen. Sandoval said “He told me, “I can’t think of anything else. I have to go and fight for our country.'”
But, when the officers arrived with the bad news, they brought everything that could help heal the wound in her heart. Everything, except his dog tags.
V.R. “Swede” Roskam was a decorated commander and champion of educational and volunteer activism. During the Korean War, he served as a Company Commander, gaining empathy for both those who served for him and the people that he was working to protect.
Over 30 years later, decorated commander and President’s Volunteer Action Award winner V.R. “Swede” Roskam and his wife came into Sandoval’s life in the most unexpected of ways. The Roskam’s were taking a vacation to Vietnam when they heard of a local bazaar which sold dog tags from fallen soldiers.
Roskam’s wife, Martha, said, “V.R. told me, ‘That’s not right that they’re being sold. They belong to the families or the veterans who lost them. Get back there and buy them all.’ ”
A few moments later, and $20 lighter, Mrs. Roskam was given all of the tags the woman had to sell. As soon as the Roskam’s were back in their home state of Illinois, they were trying figure out how to find the rightful owners of the priceless mementos of lives lost overseas.
With the help a private investigator, the family created a plan to ensure that the families were able to receive the long-awaited last token of their fallen men. The created a website, authenticated 33 out of the 37 dog tags, and began a network of information that would eventually result in the return of all of them.
One of these dog tags – battered and bent – belonged to a man named Alfred Moreno JR. Through the tireless efforts of the private investigation team, the Illinois National Guard, and the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center, they were able to return the battered tags to a shocked and grateful Ann Sandoval. As Roskam placed the tag of Alfred Moreno JR in her hands, she burst into tears.
“Everything’s home now,” she said, clasping the tag around her neck. “I can’t imagine someone being this kind to come all this way to bring me back this tag. This is a precious gift.” (Connie Cone Sexton, “Dog Tag Back Home,” The Arizona Republic)
Alfred Moreno JR and seven of his siblings had been under the care of Sandoval since 1966, after his mother had died of double pneumonia. Still, when the draft began just a few years later, Moreno was one of the first to sign up. Despite Sandoval’s pleading that he not go to war, the 20-year-old was determined to serve. A land mine explosion cut his life short just a few months after arriving in Vietnam.
The dog tags in her hands brought all of these bittersweet memories back to Sandoval, and the Roskams and the private investigation team were moved to tears.
The Roskam’s son Peter, an Illinois Senator shared the group sentiment. “We knew this was going to be a Herculean task, but we had to get these back to people,” he said. “Each one of these tags represents a story of a life.”
V.R. “Swede” Roskam passed peacefully on March 13, 2015. But, his work with private investigation firms and public military officials to return the dog tags was an overwhelming success to people like Ann Sandoval. To find out more about his work, visit RoskamDogTags.com. To find out how a private investigator can help you find information about a fallen loved one, visit LauthInvestigations.com.