When the military dog tag that Nathan Pinter, a Washington police officer assigned to the Multi-County Narcotics and Violent Crime Enforcement Unit, had purchased on eBay arrived in his mailbox just weeks before Christmas last year, he was excited to take it out and hold it, this unique piece of history.
For the last two years, Pinter has been amassing a collection of World War II items, everything from dog tags to weapons to uniforms and more. But in looking closer at this tag, Pinter realized something — it wasn’t from a World War II soldier at all. It had a Social Security number on it, which meant it was more likely a Vietnan veteran’s tag.
Could this soldier still be alive?
Pinter turned to Facebook and began a search for the name listed on the dog tag. It wasn’t long before he found who he was looking for — Michael Amalfitano, of Milmont Park, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia, who had served in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam in 1969.
“I sent him a message, and he replied a couple of days later,” Pinter recalled. “He was a little suspicious . . . which I understand.”
That’s true, said Amalfitano, but after seeing a picture of the tag that Pinter had sent, he knew it couldn’t be a scam. “It had my full Social Security and my military number. I’m the only one in the world that has those two numbers.”
Amalfitano also knew that he lost a tag in Vietnam, and the original had his first name misspelled as Mitchael. So did the tag Pinter had in his possession.
“Then when I found out he is a police officer, I thought, ‘Oh, this guy couldn’t be a better person to deal with,’ ” Amalfitano recalled.
So a day or two after receiving that initial Facebook message, Amalfitano sent Pinter his address, and Pinter mailed the tag to him. After Amalfitano received the tag, he promptly reached out to Pinter to thank him.
“He was just very, very thankful, and we’ve remained in touch and everything,” said Pinter.
“I would say he was a little overwhelmed . . . He was very happy to get the tag back. It brought up a lot of emotion for him because it had been decades,” said Pinter. “It was a single dog tag that he had lost 47 years ago and was back in his possession. He was just very happy, and I was very happy that I could do that for him.”
“It was a special thing,” Amalfitano told The Missourian about having the tag back in his possession. “I can’t even think of the words to say how I felt.”
Amalfitano said he doesn’t remember how he lost the tag, only that when he realized it was missing while he was in Vietnam in ’69, he ordered a new one.
“I just got another one, and never thought anything about it,” said Amalfitano.
Although he doesn’t know who found the tag or brought it back to America, Amalfitano imagines it was likely another U.S. soldier who found it on the floor of the jungle or wherever and felt compelled to pick it up.
“It would be like me being in the jungle, walking along and seeing a dog tag there. I’m picking it up. I’m not leaving it for the (enemy). I’m taking that back with me,” Amalfitano remarked.
Holding the dog tag from 1969 in his hand today, Amalfitano says the small piece of metal holds no cash value whatsoever. But it has incredible sentimental value, which is why he’s so grateful to have it back.
“It’s an emotional thing because it brought back some memories, you know?” he said.
“It brought back the memories of being in Vietnam, and not all of them were bad. Some were good. You start thinking about the guys you were with. It was an emotional thing.”
Today, Amalfitano keeps the tag in a special place where he expects it will never be lost again — a teacup in his wife’s china cabinet.
“You know those teacups that you never use? I keep it right there, in one of those little teacups, because if I put it upstairs in my room in a drawer or whatever, I’ll forget where the thing is,” said Amalfitano. “But I know in that china closet, nobody goes in that china closet. That’s where I keep it.”
Down the road, Amalfitano expects that he will hand down the tag to one of his grandsons who has an interest in military history.
A reporter from a CBS station in Pennsylania featured the story back in May, and as part of the segment, Amalfitano and Pinter saw each other for the first time via FaceTime, a software application on their smartphones that allows for video phone calls. Until then, the two men had only talked over the phone.
It felt really good to finally “meet,” even if it wasn’t exactly in person, they agreed.
s“It created a bond between me and him,” said Amalfitano.
‘I’ve Been Looking Up To Veterans My Whole Life’
A 1999 graduate of St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, Officer Pinter has worked in law enforcement for 15 years and served with the narcotics unit for four years.
Pinter said his interest in World War II memorabilia can be traced directly to his two late grandfathers who were both World War II veterans — Joe Pinter of St. Louis, who served in the Second Cavalry and Ninth Armored Division, and Kenneth Jaeger of Washington, who served in the 34th infantry.
Pinter began his collection with items that had belonged to them, and then about two years ago he began adding as much as he could find from any World War II veteran.
His love for his grandfathers and appreciation for all combat veterans is what motivated Pinter to go the extra mile in tracking down Amalfitano to return his dog tag.
“I’ve been looking up to veterans my whole life,” Pinter remarked. “It was just something I wanted to do. The dog tag really wasn’t mine. It was his. And I’m glad I got it back to him.
“I’ve got other dog tags at home from World War II veterans, and I’ve tried contacting their next of kin, because most of those veterans have passed. But nobody has ever contacted me back, so I have them in a display case. If they ever get back to me, I’ll happily return them.”
“When I do find something with a name on it, I do usually try to look the person up, because I know how I would feel if someone called me and said, ‘I have your Grandpa Pinter’s jacket.’ That would be so great!” Pinter said.
He has a room at his Washington home where he keeps his World War II items displayed. The collection includes around a dozen uniforms, helmets, patches, weapons and other items.
Pinter didn’t contact the person from whom he purchased the dog tag on ebay. That person very well could have come to own the tag by purchasing a box of items at an estate sale or something.
The more important thing was to get the tag back to Amalfitano.
“I just wanted to do something for him, and it felt really good to make him so happy,” said Pinter.