Buried gold: Class ring dug up in Argentia returned to Vietnam vet 50 years later
Metal detectorist digs up 1966 class ring, returns to American Vietnam War vet
With the sweep of a metal detector, a Newfoundland man uncovered a long lost possession that is now being returned to its owner — an American Vietnam War veteran once stationed in Argentia.
After hours of finding nothing more than old pop cans and nails near a beach in early February, Ralph Dawe was ready to give up treasure hunting for the day.
That is, until his device started beeping.
"All of a sudden, I hit this solid, beautiful signal," said Dawe.
"So I decided to dig it, and when I dug, it was my first gold ring ... I seen the yellow, then I seen the stone, then I could tell that I actually had something good."
The gold ring was only about two inches under the soil on a large grassy bank near a beach overlooking Placentia Bay.
American class ring from 1966
The ring — gold, with a rectangular red stone — had the year 1966 engraved in it, along with a crest and the name of a school.
The letters "HWW" were carved inside.
Unlike most treasures dug up decades after they're buried, the ring had just enough clues on it to encourage Dawe to try to track down the owner.
Dawe found the name of the school in Belchertown, Massachusetts and then found a list of graduates from 1966.
He skimmed through the names, searching for someone with the initials HWW.
When he saw the name Henry William Whidden, he knew he had found the owner.
"I decided to give him a call and lo and behold, he answered," said Dawe.
"I told him some of the things about the ring and then he told me other things about the ring and bang, we had a match."
Uncovered ring 'a complete surprise'
The phone call — and the ring — came as "a complete surprise" to Henry Whidden, who now lives in Florida.
"It was completely 50 years old [and] out of my mind," said Whidden, during a phone interview while the ring was en route to him.
"I said, the last time I saw that ring, it was on my Newfoundland girlfriend's finger in 1968, before I shipped out to Vietnam."
Whidden had been stationed at Naval Air Station Argentia for 18 months before going to Vietnam. On the day he was shipped off to war, he took the ring off his finger and handed it to his girlfriend.
"[I gave] it to her as a promise that I would return and eventually get married," said Whidden.
"And while I was in Vietnam, she sent me a 'Dear John letter,' that's like the lingo for breaking up with me."
Despite the breakup, he came back to Newfoundland to ask her hand in marriage. They married, but later divorced.
Ring 'only piece of my history pre-Vietnam'
When asked how Whidden felt about putting the ring on his finger 50 years after he lost it, he said, "In a word… terrified."
"I'm absolutely speechless, I don't know whether I should be thankful or terrified at this moment."
The Vietnam war left Whidden wounded and broken, and he still suffers with post traumatic stress disorder to this day.
"There's so much attached to that Vietnam tour. We, as combat Vietnam veterans, came back to an environment that was not conducive to healing," said Whidden.
"War zone experience changes your organic structure of your brain and here I'm going to have a piece of my life that is before everything that changed my life."
The graduation ring, that has presumably been sitting in dirt for five decades, is a reminder of life before the war left Whidden broken.
"This is the only piece of my history that I have or will have prior to everything that changed my life to the point that it has not been normal for 50 years."
Ring may offer healing
After struggling for years with anxiety, insomnia and other symptoms caused by PTSD, Whidden has hope that the ring may offer him some peace.
"Maybe this is an omen from the past that I can continue healing … [and can] get days where I feel like a normal man."
Since taking up metal detecting as a hobby after retirement two years ago, Ralph Dawe made a 'metal detecting bucket list' with two top goals.
"One of them was to find gold, and another part of my bucket list was to return something sentimental to a complete stranger."
"So, I managed to get two knocked off my bucket list all in one item."
Emotional, Whidden struggles to find the words to express how grateful he is to Ralph Dawe.
"We're connected inextricably forever … we're going to stay in touch."
With files from the St. John's Morning Show