It was a reunion almost 44 years in the making.
Last summer, Anthony Cenzoprano found a dog tag in a pile of debris while doing construction on his summer home in Otego, New York -- prompting the Garden City resident to launch a search for its owner. In November, Cenzoprano made contact with Martin Bobek III, a Vietnam War veteran living in Forked River, New Jersey, who had been without his priceless war memento since the late 1960s.
“I just felt that it was my patriotic duty to give the dog tag back,” Cenzoprano said. “I never gave it a second thought.”
Months of long-distance planning finally came to fruition on April 11, when Cenzoprano, 61, and his wife Janice traveled to Forked River to return the dog tag to Bobek, ending the almost year-long saga in an emotional reunion.
“When we’ve told people, our friends, about the find, they would get goosebumps,” Bobek said. Bobek says he has never before been to Otego and speculates that the dog tag was thrown out by his ex-wife, making the find especially extraordinary.
Cenzoprano placed the dog tag in a box, mounted it on a large frame next to an American flag and a newspaper article from last year, for their meeting. Bobek’s wife, Eva, broke down into tears, while Bobek embraced Cenzoprano and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“When I saw it, I couldn’t believe it -- there it was, in my hand, with my name, my service number... you never forget your service number,” Bobek said. “I think I may get a chain for it, I’d like to wear it from time to time.”
The two families spent the afternoon looking through Bobek’s old photos, while Bobek spoke of his time spent as a machine gunner in the 1st Infantry Division, famously known as the Big Red One.
“When I was growing up, news of the Vietnam War was always playing on television -- I was very aware of it,” Cenzoprano said. “I had a draft number, but the war ended before I was called to duty. It was a very real time for me.”
Cenzoprano also made a $230 donation in Bobek’s name to the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization dedicated to providing services and aid to war veterans. Cenzoprano said his experiences working with veterans throughout his career as an occupational therapist opened his eyes to some of the struggles recovering soldiers face every day. Bobek currently suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I have always felt that the men and women who have given their lives and their services aren’t appreciated enough,” Cenzoprano said. “I don’t think people realize how lucky we are to have warm beds and running water, and to feel safe in our beds at night.”
Cenzoprano and Bobek intend to keep in touch, with plans for Bobek to go and visit Cenzoprano’s Otego home, so he can see the place where the dog tag was found for himself.
“Marty is a great guy," Cenzoprano said, "and I feel like I really made a friend throughout this whole process.”