U.S. Army ID tags finally made their way into the hands of a widow whose husband, a soldier from North Dakota, was wounded by a grenade in the Vietnam War more than 50 years ago.
The tags of Ronald “Ron” D. Hepper resurfaced in Russia. Ron died in 2007, at age 58. His tags were returned to his wife, Ruth Hepper, of Bismarck, on Wednesday by Gov. Doug Burgum.
Ron grew up on a ranch in Sioux County near Selfridge. After graduating from Selfridge High School in 1967, he volunteered for the draft and served a tour of duty in Vietnam with the Army’s 196th Light Infantry Brigade.
Nicknamed “Cowboy” by his fellow soldiers, he was in Vietnam just a few months when a blast from a hand grenade blew his boots off his body during combat on June 11, 1969. Ron had kept a set of ID tags – commonly referred to as “dog tags” – in his boots, and he had loosened his boots before going to sleep that night, his wife said.
He woke up in the hospital with no boots and no dog tags. He spent three months in an amputee ward, but doctors were able to save his legs. For his injuries suffered in combat, he received the Purple Heart. After his military service, he returned home to ranch near Isabel, South Dakota.
He and his wife had moved to Bismarck to be closer to family a few months before his death in January 2007.
How Ron’s tags resurfaced
The dog tags ultimately were found by an American citizen traveling in Russia. The individual purchased the tags from a street vendor in Moscow and delivered them to the American Embassy in Moscow. From there they were forwarded to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., which contacted the North Dakota Governor’s Office.
Ruth said her husband was a proud veteran who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and was helped by a PTSD treatment pilot program at Fort Meade, South Dakota.
While it remains a mystery how the tag ended up in Russia, Ruth believes it may have been discovered and collected by one of the Russian soldiers who served alongside the North Vietnamese military. American military artifacts also were sought after in Russia and China during the Cold War.
Ron is buried at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery.