Menu
In the News

How this Latter-day Saint Vietnam veteran was reunited with his lost dog tag 56 years later

‘Heavenly Father had to be behind it,’ said the 76-year-old Marine Corps veteran and Purple Heart recipient

Shelly Skougaard holds a dog tag that belongs to her husband Martin Skougaard, a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

Shelly Skougaard holds a dog tag that belongs to her husband Martin Skougaard, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, at Scott McGavin’s home in South Jordan on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. McGavin found Skougaard’s dog tags while doing humanitarian work in Vietnam around 30 years ago and recently tracked down Skougaard to return the tags.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News


How this Latter-day Saint Vietnam veteran was reunited with his lost dog tag 56 years later

‘Heavenly Father had to be behind it,’ said the 76-year-old Marine Corps veteran and Purple Heart recipient

Shelly Skougaard holds a dog tag that belongs to her husband Martin Skougaard, a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

Shelly Skougaard holds a dog tag that belongs to her husband Martin Skougaard, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, at Scott McGavin’s home in South Jordan on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. McGavin found Skougaard’s dog tags while doing humanitarian work in Vietnam around 30 years ago and recently tracked down Skougaard to return the tags.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Martin Skougaard had only been in Vietnam about six months when a grenade blast in his foxhole seriously injured his leg and sent him home.

His dog tags — a soldier’s metal identity tag worn on a chain around his neck — were somehow blown off in the explosion.

More than 55 years later, the small engraved piece of metal that also identified him as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was placed in his hands once again by a thoughtful stranger.

The 76-year-old Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, who now lives near the Cedar City Utah Temple, marveled as he considered how his dog tag was not only found, but that someone had also taken the time to track him down and return it.

“I can’t believe the miracles that happen in this world,” he said. “Heavenly Father had to be behind it.”

Martin Skougaard, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, left, receives his old dog tag.

Martin Skougaard, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, left, receives his old dog tag from Scott McGavin at McGavin’s home in South Jordan on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. McGavin found Skougaard’s dog tags while doing humanitarian work in Vietnam around 30 years ago and recently tracked down Skougaard to return the tags.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Surviving Vietnam

In 1967, Skougaard was a 19-year-old Pvt. 1st Class in the United States Marine Corps serving a tour in Vietnam.

Martin Skougaard is pictured at age 19 in 1966.

Martin Skougaard is pictured at age 19 in 1966. Skougaard was a Pvt. 1st Class in the Marine Corps when he was injured in a grenade blast in Vietnam. He was later given the Purple Heart and made a Cpl.

Provided by Skougaard family

On Jan. 15 of that year, Skougaard and two other soldiers were together in a foxhole one night when their company was attacked.

During the ensuing battle, a grenade was tossed into their foxhole. The blast killed the two other soldiers on their first night in the country and left Skougaard seriously wounded.

The Marine’s best friend, a medic in the next foxhole, found Skougaard and provided some medical attention before he was transported by helicopter, amid intense machine gun fire, to a hospital in Danang.

Skougaard was later moved to the Philippines and eventually back to the United States, where doctors were able to save his leg.

“The Lord has blessed me so much,” he said. “I worked hard jobs all my life and never had any trouble.”

Everything Skougaard owned at the time was with him in the foxhole, including a camera he wishes he could get back. He never expected to see his dog tag again.

3 ‘Latter-day Saint’ dog tags

In November 1993, Scott McGavin, of South Jordan, was a few years out of dental school with a young family when he had the opportunity to perform humanitarian work with Operation Smile in Danang, Vietnam.

During some down time, McGavin was exploring the city and found a shop selling Vietnam War memorabilia.

A dog tag belonging to Martin Skougaard is pictured along with Scott McGavin’s travel photos from Vietnam.

A dog tag belonging to Martin Skougaard, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, is pictured along with Scott McGavin’s travel photos from Vietnam at McGavin’s home in South Jordan on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. McGavin found Skougaard’s dog tags while doing humanitarian work in Vietnam around 30 years ago and recently tracked down Skougaard to return the tags.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

McGavin’s father served as a gunner on a B-17 aircraft in World War II. As he looked with fascination around the shop, his eyes found a container filled with hundreds of dog tags of American servicemen. He began sorting through them and found one that identified the soldier as a “Latter-day Saint.”

“I went through every one of those dog tags, and I was able to pull three out that said, ‘Latter-day Saint’ on them,” said McGavin, a fellow Church member.

Upon his return, McGavin wanted to track down the families of the soldiers and return the dog tags. He learned the Church had a military database, but a search for the names yielded zero results.

Unsure what to try next, the trio of dog tags sat in McGavin’s nightstand drawer for the next 30 years.

“They were always right there,” he said. “I would look at them, and occasionally I’d pull them out and run them through my fingers and wonder and wish and hope that one day something would materialize.”

Last November McGavin said he was attending Church meetings when a fellow member mentioned Vietnam. Once again he felt motivated to find the owners of each dog tag or their families. He realized he had a great search tool in social media.

The first two tags listed fairly common names, “E.R. Larsen” and “V.A. Valesquez.” But the third seemed unique. McGavin typed the name “M.L. Skougaard” into Facebook and instantly found Martin.

A direct message to the account went unanswered, but within a week there was a posting with a vehicle for sale that included a phone number. McGavin called, and Skougaard answered. He confirmed the information on the dog tag.

“I think I have something that belongs to you,” McGavin said.

Dog tags are pictured as Martin Skougaard, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, left, and Scott McGavin talk.

Dog tags are pictured as Martin Skougaard, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, left, and Scott McGavin talk at McGavin’s home in South Jordan on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. McGavin found Skougaard’s dog tags while doing humanitarian work in Vietnam around 30 years ago and recently tracked down Skougaard to return the tags.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The meeting

Following a visit to the VA hospital in Salt Lake City on the morning of Jan. 6, 2023, an excited Skougaard limped to McGavin’s front door with the help of his wife, Shelly Skougaard, where the two men met in person for the first time and shared a hug before sitting down for a lengthy conversation.

They talked about what happened to Skougaard in Vietnam, his faith and life experiences, McGavin’s discovery of the dog tags and more. McGavin pulled out a photo album of his trip to Vietnam.

Skougaard told about being involved in a serious car accident when he was 16 years old that killed his mother and two other people. He recovered from his injuries, thanks to a priesthood blessing and fasting and prayer by his seminary classmates.

Three years later he was drafted into military service. After returning from Vietnam, Skougaard experienced a divorce before marrying Shelly. For many years he struggled with alcoholism and post traumatic stress disorder and was not active in the Church.

A turning point for the couple came when their daughter died in a car accident in December 1993, within a month of when McGavin found Skougaard’s dog tag.

“It broke my heart so bad,” Skougaard said. “I always thought I was a tough person, but losing her just about killed me.”

Each day for a more than a year, Skougaard went to his daughter’s grave and prayed. He began to feel the light of the gospel return to his life. He talked to his wife about the plan of salvation and expressed a desire for their family to be sealed together in the temple.

His wife, Shelly, began meeting with the missionaries and was baptized. He quit drinking alcohol and returned to activity in the Church. The family was later sealed in the temple.

As the conversation drew to a close, the two men embraced again.

Skougaard admitted the dog tag reminded him of some difficult Vietnam memories as well as guilt for coming home and having a life when many of his brothers did not. But having it again still meant a great deal. Skougaard called the whole experience a “miracle.”

“That dog tag means a ton to me,” said Skougaard, who plans to get a new chain and wear the dog tag again. “The Lord loves each one of us so much, and we have to believe that He sends down angels to help us — some people to be the angel and people like me to be the recipient.”

Scott McGavin, left, and Martin Skougaard, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, outside of McGavin’s home.

Scott McGavin, left, and Martin Skougaard, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, stand together outside of McGavin’s home in South Jordan on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. McGavin found Skougaard’s dog tags while doing humanitarian work in Vietnam around 30 years ago and recently tracked down Skougaard to return the tags.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Two more dog tags

McGavin said he was grateful to play a small part in bringing Skougaard a little bit of closure in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

“Some people went over there, and it was horrible, but they came home and were fine without injuries. This guy took a beating over there, then came home and faced difficulties and adversity,” McGavin said. “To me it’s a story of faith and hope, loss and sorrow, happiness and redemption.”

McGavin still hopes to find the owners of the two other Latter-day Saint dog tags. Anyone with information is welcome to email him at scottmyramcgavin@comcast.net.

Scott McGavin is still hoping to find the owners or families of these two dog tags.

Scott McGavin is still hoping to find the owners or families of these two dog tags, both of which belonged to Latter-day Saints serving in the Vietnam War.

Trent Toone, Church News

Newsletters
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed