For Anthony Cenzoprano, the summer was the perfect time to head upstate from his Garden City home and begin work turning his new property in Otego, New York, into a fall getaway. Slabs of rock that had fallen from the nearby hillside needed to be cleared away, calling for excavation. The procedure seemed routine -- but what he found in the ground was more than just dirt and stone.
“During the excavation, we found some old stuff; a Monopoly house, some old broken plastic,” Cenzoprano, 60, said. “But right next to that, there was an old dog tag. I was amazed -- I had to pick it up.”
The discovery prompted Cenzoprano to track down the owner of the missing tag, which turned out to be Martin Bobek III, 69, a Vietnam War veteran living in Forked River, N.J.
“A dog tag is pretty important, it’s your identification -- a very personal thing,” Cenzoprano said. “I have a lot of respect for our veterans, and I knew I wanted to find the owner, give it back.”
Cenzoprano finally made contact with Bobek on Veterans Day. For Bobek, the discovery was shocking – he had not seen the tag in 43 years. He had also never been to Otego, making the find even more extraordinary.
“I just couldn’t believe it, that after over 40 years it just pops up out of nowhere,” said Bobek, a lifelong New Jersey resident. “How it ended up in New York, I really don’t know.”
Bobek speculates that the tag was thrown out by his first wife, whom he said he married shortly after returning from his one-year term in the Vietnam War from 1966-67. Bobek explains that they were divorced in 1968 after a short marriage that ended with her leaving out of the blue.
“I got those divorce papers sent to me from Oregon; she was long gone,” Bobek said. “Who knows, she may have been living up there for awhile at a time, and threw it away."
“It’s incredible that he [Cenzoprano] could still even read the writing on the tag,” Bobek added. “It must have been buried under there for years.”
Bobek and Cenzoprano are planning to meet up to exchange the long-lost tag sometime after the holiday season. For Bobek, who still struggles with PTSD decades after his experience, even if the mystery of how the tag got there may never be solved, being reunited with this piece of his life is an event to look forward to.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with it just yet, once I have it back,” Bobek said. “I may frame it, but I think I may wear it for awhile, too.”