DECATUR, Ill. — Roger Randol was hunting for pheasant near Macon a few months after he returned home from his overseas hitch in the Army during the Vietnam War, most likely in the fall of 1971.
He dropped his dog tag somewhere out there, maybe near a vacant house where he had parked.
Forty-five years later a farmer found that thin stainless steel tag, 2 inches long by 1 1/8 inches wide, close to where a house had once stood.
Rather than discarding it, the farmer turned it over to Moweaqua Police Chief Robert "Mate" Maynard, who handed it off to Macon County Sheriff Thomas Schneider.
With the help of the county's Veteran's Assistance Commission, Schneider performed a little research about Randol. He discovered that he served during the Vietnam War era and attained the rank of specialist.
Schneider, who doesn't hide his admiration for military veterans, had a plaque made up for Randol, which included the dates of his service and this statement: "Your dog tag may have been lost; your service was never forgotten."
Randol was working on the shed about 60 yards behind his house when he spotted a monster-size black truck pull up in his driveway. Two lawmen, Schneider and Lt. Jon Butts, got out of the truck.
He had no idea what they were doing at his house.
"He showed me my dog tag," Randol said. "Then he said, 'I want you to have this plaque.'"
Randol, who enlisted when he was 19, after his brother Clayton and a good friend had been drafted into the Army, has never received much recognition for his service.
In 1969, when Randol told a recruiter he wanted to serve in the Army, the war was unpopular among most young people. The recruiter told him it was unusual for someone to volunteer at that time.
Ironically, the young man who was willing to serve in Vietnam was sent instead to South Korea, where he served for 14 months. There was some occasional shooting, including a few U.S. soldiers killed in action shortly before his arrival, but nothing like the magnitude of the combat action in nearby Vietnam.
"I served in a combat zone, in the DMZ (demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea)," Randol said. "We were getting ready to go to combat in Cambodia. We were on red alert. They were getting ready to send us."
At that time, news hit the states that American troops had been fighting in Cambodia, which sent the anti-war movement into a frenzy of demonstrations. Orders for more troops in the region were canceled.
Although he served as a weapons instructor in the storied 7th Infantry Division, Randol has not accepted recognition as a Vietnam veteran, such as attending the welcome home ceremonies held in Decatur for the past five years.
Randol was sent for basic and advanced training to Fort Ord, near Monterey, Calif. One of his fondest memories was meeting one of the all-time great rock singers on a commercial plane ride from Los Angeles to Monterey. One of his fellow soldiers was playing a tape of a Janis Joplin song, when Janis herself spoke up from a nearby seat.
"How do you like my new song?" she said.
Randol approached her for an autograph and found her to be a warm, friendly young lady. He was sad to hear of her death a few months later. Randol later passed on that autograph to his daughter, Stacey, a singer/songwriter who lives in Nashville.
After the sheriff and his right-hand man presented Randol with the plaque and his lost dog tag April 14, he wanted to let everyone know how much he appreciated it.
He wrote a letter to the editor in which he said, "Such a heart-felt, caring gesture made this aging soldier instantly remember why he had decided, as a young man, to enlist in the Army and leave home to serve his country."
Elaine Robertson, Randol's sister, said he remembered when his brother "Bugs," as Roger was known, wanted to join their brother in Vietnam. As she recalled, the Army told their family that they were not allowing two brothers to serve in country at that time.
"It was a very dramatic time for all of us," said Robertson, who graduated from Macon High School, as did all her siblings. "We lost high school friends. You either went to college or you went to Vietnam. I'm so proud of both my brothers. They love this country and fulfilled wherever they were asked to serve."
She said she appreciated what Schneider did.
"This guy went way out of his way, with a plaque," Robertson said. "Just to hand it back would have been sufficient. I was so thrilled. This sheriff was kind of enough to go way out of his way to recognize my brother."