Craig Jones Columnist
I recently found my dad’s US Air Force dog tag. It was in a little cloth bag tied off with a ribbon, and with it were his wedding ring, his college ring and his fishing license. I had never laid eyes on any of these items until that moment. I didn’t even know they existed. My dad’s military service was around the time of Korea, though he was never sent there. It was a matter of great concern for him and my mom, of course.
He was to die an early death from combat of a different sort, with lung cancer, though not a smoker, in 1959 when I was not quite six. I imagine that the funeral home took the ring off my dad’s finger and gave it to my mom and she secreted it, with all of these other precious things, away in the same lock box in which I found them. It was a tender moment for me to uncover them, and to imagine how my mom felt when she decided to put them in that little bag and tie them with that little ribbon before they were forgotten about for 60 years.
When I found the bag, I put on the dog tag immediately, and I was deeply emotional, thinking how I never really had anything of my dad’s to wear or even have on my desk. I’m wearing the dog tag even now as I write, enjoying the idea that it touched his body and was under his uniform. Its embossed name and eight-digit number and three-digit alphanumeric ID are further proof of his identity in this world. I don’t know how long I’ll wear it, but probably for quite a while. Then I may end up putting it in some lock box myself, who knows? Now it’s like an amulet or talisman, connecting me to my own father whom I never really got to know, and whose absence shaped a great deal of my life.
I was at work the next day alongside two of my fellow baby boomers and they asked, hey, how was Maine? and I said cool, we’re making progress on my mom’s house. I mentioned how I found the dog tag and was wearing it and both of them got it immediately. One man said he has his dad’s tag from his years in the Army and it’s on his calendar, and he keeps moving it from month to month. Even now it makes him emotional to think of his dad, who died 20 years ago but with whom he got to spend many great years, unlike me he acknowledged.
The other man was moved as well, and he said he didn’t have anything of his dad’s because it was all with his sister. The conversation we were having made him decide to talk to her and see if he could find something. His dad was in the 82nd Airborne, he said, and while he never was in actual combat in World War II, he was ready to go. That very day I texted a friend of mine, and I told him how I’d found my dad’s dog tag and was wearing it even as I sent the text. He replied that he, too, had found his dad’s dog tag going through his parents’ stuff.
I realized that three different men – in the space of 20 hours – had more or less the same experience, and that I was on a team of some sort. A team of men who had found dog tags or at least had the experience of realizing how much an item of their fathers’ would matter to them. It made me think that perhaps there’s a very large men’s team out there of men who had the same experience, and that it wouldn’t take very long to put it together. Hell, it might be an entire men’s division or an international one of just men who found some item of their dads’.
It made me think about what a team is anyway. Most teams are, in fact, temporary, whether it’s an athletic team or work team. They don’t go on forever. Athletic teams change composition every year, even if there are some regulars who hang on for awhile. Whatever shape this group of men I’m thinking of is, it sure seemed like a team when I started talking about my dad’s dog tag.
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, has this to say: “A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.” Standing there doing our job together, I witnessed some previously unknown depths in other men. That felt like trust. That felt like a team.