With their company scattered all around Vietnam, the two soldiers' paths never crossed until a few weeks ago when a high school receptionist connected them. Joe Williams and James Castle were both members of the 8th Engineer Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Benning.
According to Mr. Williams, the battalion constructed or removed bridges, fords, culverts and airfield facilities and swept for mines. The battalion was often scattered as they rappelled from helicopters into the jungle to clear the way for infantry.
Mr. Williams arrived in Vietnam in 1967, having graduated from Anson High School in North Carolina the year before. At some point during the commotion of his year of service in Vietnam, Mr. Williams lost his class ring.
"When I went to Vietnam, I had it on my finger, and when I came back, I didn't," said Mr. Williams, who still lives in North Carolina. "I never thought I'd see it again."
At the approximate time Mr. Williams was leaving Vietnam, Mr. Castle was arriving, having been suddenly promoted to Sergeant Major and assigned to headquarters for the battalion.
"He didn't get there until the middle of '68, and we could've just walked by each other and not even known it," Mr. Williams said.
Mr. Castle said the Colonel was shot during a battle and had to be flown back to the states. The then-Sargeant Major had to escort the Colonel, so Mr. Castle was put in the position. While serving at headquarters, Mr. Castle said he found a class ring, which he saved in hopes of finding the owner.
When he returned to the states and later retired and settled in Thomson, Mr. Castle said he put the ring in a desk drawer and forgot about it. Six years ago he sent out emails searching for the owner, but was unsuccessful.
Recently, Mr. Castle decided to resume his search. This time, he looked in an Atlas for the name of the county that was engraved on the side of the ring.
"I figure I don't have too many more days left in this world," the 76-year-old said. "I didn't want to just leave it."
Through the Atlas, Mr. Castle discovered Anson County in Wadesboro, N.C., and looked online for the phone number of the high school. Mr. Castle said he called the high school and explained to the receptionist what he wanted.
The ring had a ruby and was engraved with the Class of 1966 on the side. Mr. Castle said initials were engraved inside the ring. The receptionist, Carla Freeman, searched an annual, and found Mr. Williams was the only name who matched the initials. She then located Mr. Williams and gave him Mr. Castle's phone number.
Mr. Williams said it took Ms. Freeman a few weeks to get him, and he's impressed with her persistence.
Mr. Castle's wife, Mary, said her husband was so excited after talking with Mr. Williams that he couldn't sleep.
"He called and I told him that I was in Vietnam and I found his class ring, and he said 'I'll be darn,' and I said 'that's how I feel, too," Mr. Castle said.
Mr. Castle mailed the ring to Mr. Williams, who received it on Monday, Dec. 4, and said it "still looks just like a new one.". Mr. Williams said in a phone interview that he plans to drive to Thomson after Christmas and meet Mr. Castle and his wife.
"Forty years is something, you never think something will come around like that," he said. "And somebody that honest, trying to find out whose it is, because he could've taken it and pawned it or whatever he wanted to do with it. But he's been in the military long enough, I guess, that he thought he should find out whose it was."