October 13, 2002
GREGG M. MILIOTE, Herald News Staff Reporter
Ernest Nunes, a Vietnam veteran who was sought out by an Illinois state senator and The Herald News last week was found Friday afternoon and will soon be receiving his long-lost military dog tags.
Nunes, who was contacted by an employee with the Bristol County Veterans Association Friday, later called The Herald News to find out more information about his missing dog tags.
He then contacted state Sen. Peter Roskam of Illinois, whose parents V.R. and Martha Roskam purchased a bundle of U.S. military dog tags while on a business trip in Ho Chi Minh City earlier this year.
Nunes said Saturday that the senator or his father, a Korean War veteran himself, will be taking the trip to Swansea or Providence to meet with him and formally present him with the dog tag.
Nunes served in the Quang Tree Province of Vietnam beginning in March 1968. He served for 13 months after enlisting with the Marine Corps after graduating from the former Fall River Ruggles School in 1967.
He said he is pretty sure he lost a few different sets of dog tags during his 13 months of trudging through mud and jungle.
He believes he lost his last set of tags when he was wounded in action during a skirmish in the Ashore Valley region of Vietnam.
His unit was in the process of capturing an enemy cache of weapons when the Viet Cong stumbled upon them.
"All poop broke loose and I got hit in both legs," Nunes said.
While receiving medical treatment, he was separated from his boot where his dog tags were tied to his leg.
He was later airlifted to a MASH unit and spent more than a month at the hospital before being sent back to America and discharged.
He then moved to Florida and began working construction jobs before the injuries began to catch up with him in 1974.
He visited various Veterans Administration hospitals and finally was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He has been on disability ever since and now lives in Swansea near his mother, in Somerset, and his father in Fall River.
He said Saturday there are two very different emotional sides to finding out that his dog tags are being returned.
"Half of me is excited about getting them back, but the other half of me is dealing with all the memories that are being brought back. They aren't all good.
"I know that I am not alone though. So many of us (veterans) all deal with it, but finding out about these tags really brings it back to life for me," he said.
In fact, he said receiving the dog tags will be a nice memento of his time in the Marines, but he is more moved by Roskam's father's actions in Ho Chi Minh City.
When V.R. Roskam and his wife happened upon the street vendor selling the symbols of American heroism, he was outraged and offended. He said at the time that he couldn't let them sit there in an alley wasting away, because it brought back memories of his own days in the Korean War.
"It's a matter of honor," V.R. Roskam said.
Nunes said he was touched by the thought of V.R. Roskam purchasing all 37 dog tags the vendor had.
"It really showed me that veterans stand up for veterans," Nunes said. "We're brothers deep in our hearts.
"I am definitely ecstatic about meeting him in person."
Nunes is now a member of Swansea's American Legion Post 303. He was the past commander of the American Legion Post in Portsmouth, R.I.
© The Herald News 2002