John Naismith's discovery has swept through the US community of Vietnam veterans. Photo: Joe Armao
It was a sheer fluke that Boronia mechanic John Naismith happened to glance in that direction, just as the sun glinted off a thin piece of metal half-buried in the Vietnamese undergrowth.
Curious, Naismith pulled the object free - it was an old US Marine ''dog tag'' bearing the name Martinson and listing the soldier's army number and religion - Lutheran.
Naismith, who put the tag in his wallet, was to discover later that the tag has been lying there for 43 years, ever since Lanny Martinson, then a 24-year-old Marine, had been caught by a mine explosion at Khe Sanh that killed six of his mates.
John Naismith discovered that the owner of this army dog tag he found in Vietnam was still alive. Photo: Joe Armao
Martinson lost a leg that day, was flown back to the US and suffered another tragedy - when his family drove 2000 kilometres to visit him in a California hospital, they were involved in a car accident. Martinson's 10-year-old sister Wendy was killed.
But Naismith knew nothing of this for another two years. He had found the tag in 2011 during a working holiday with wife Anne, teaching English to Vietnamese children in a summer school.
They had taken a tour of the former demilitarised zone and Naismith had wandered off alone to look for traces of the old airstrip. It was then that he spotted the tag.
''When we got home,'' he says, ''I emailed the US Marines, the Vietnam vets, a servicemen's magazine, trying to find if this bloke Martinson was still alive. I thought I would post the tag to him or his family. But no one seemed to be able to help.''
It was not until Naismith travelled to the US two months ago with his boss, classic car dealer Russell Rohl, that the link was made. Rohl was a friend of Charlie Fagan, owner of Good Time Charlie's motorcycle shop in Los Angeles and Fagan had some good contacts among the Vietnam vets motorcycle club.
They put out feelers and, two days later, Martinson was located in the city of Sugar Land, Texas. ''I have spoken to him on the phone,'' says Naismith. ''Naturally he is very emotional about it.''
The dog tag story has galvanised the huge community of Americans who served in Vietnam and the Martinson mission has taken on a life of its own through social media and the military grapevine.
On Sunday, Naismith and Rohl flew out of Australia, preparing to make a four-day motorcycle trip across the US to deliver that dog tag to Martinson's front door.
''San Diego Motorcycle Riders are organising some Viet vets to ride with us,'' Naismith said. ''We're picking up vets as we go and they predict we'll have about 200 together by the time we get there.''
Martinson, now remarried and retired, has been gobsmacked at the discovery of his long-lost dog tag. He had been about to order a replacement at the insistence of his daughter, Bobbi. ''This shows that people really care,'' he told the Lake County News-Chronicle.
''I've had dozens of messages a day. But I didn't do anything to be singled out, it just happened.''