WILMINGTON, Del. — It's not an expensive watch.
For someone, however, it was a daily reminder of a seminal point in their lives: a year served in the Vietnam War.
Located amid a pile of empty cans in the woods, it has a story to tell.
Whether that's a story of pride in service, a tale of sadness, or something in between is anyone's guess. Unless the owner can be found.
Kathy Campbell found it. She was out on her neighborhood "Adopt-a-Highway" walks along Southwood Road, near the Hockessin, Del., home she and her husband Guy have shared for the past 22 years.
It was April, the day after Easter — she recalled. Strolling along the edge of the two-lane roadway, she spotted a bunch of empty beer cans under a tree, in a spot barely 1,000 feet from the Pennsylvania state line.
The cans were a mess that demanded action.
"It looked kinda like a bunch of kids had been sitting there, just hanging out, over the weekend," said Campbell. "So I was just picking up everything. And I saw this watch. And I honestly thought, you know, a lot of the kids wear these inexpensive watches with the real big faces, and that's what I thought it was."
Focused on the cleanup, she put it in her pocket to look at later.
Back home, Campbell took another look at the silver-and-gold timepiece and realized she might have something special. An older brother had served in Vietnam. "I can recall a lot about those years," she said.
The words on a small, gold-colored disc affixed to one end of the flexible wristband jumped out at her. "Republic of Vietnam Service," it read, the words embossed under the image of a dragon behind bamboo trees — a replica of the medal given to all who served in the war.
On the other end of the wristband was something equally intriguing: a miniature version of the rectangular green, yellow and red ribbon that denotes service in Vietnam and is worn on military dress uniforms.
Then she flipped it over. Engraved on the back were someone's initials and the dates 1967-1968.
Curiosity now thoroughly piqued, Campbell put on her detective's hat. She ran lost-and-found notices in The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal, other local publications, and Craig's List. She contacted several veterans groups. She also called the Wilmington-based oral history group Voices of War, which has embarked on a multi-year project to collect oral histories of the veterans of the Vietnam War.
All to no avail. She even called Delaware State Police.
"I thought it might have come from a burglary," she said.
The location complicates that scenario. If it was stolen, it just as easily could have been taken from a Pennsylvania residence, or anyplace.
In keeping with Campbell's wishes, the News Journal isn't revealing the initials. She hopes, perhaps through this story, to find the original owner. That person would have to be able to provide the correct initials.
If, that is, they want it back.
"You might find that there's not such a happy story behind that watch," said Paul Davis, president of the Delaware chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. "It could be anything. Someone might have decided they didn't want it anymore. Or it could have been a homeless vet's watch."
Still, Davis connected one of his members who shares the initials on the watch with the News Journal. The veteran, who lives just a few miles from where the watch was found, had lost a watch he'd bought en route to the war. But it had disappeared in the jungle — probably fell out of his rucksack, he figured. He also didn't serve from 1967-1968.
Campbell remains hopeful that the story might have a happy ending.
"I just think it's amazing," Campbell said. "And I just think it means a whole lot to somebody. And they're probably just as lost about finding it as I am about trying to give it back."
So the search continues. Anyone with information on the rightful owner is asked to contact Amy Vanneman at Voices of War, which has offered to serve as the point of contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
McMichael also reports for the (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal.