US Airmen reunited with stolen dog tags

Joe Valdespino served in the US Air Corps during World War II

SAN ANTONIO, TX – History came rushing back Sunday for a local World War II veteran.

Joe Valdespino served as a ball-turret gunner in the US Air Corps, one of the more dangerous positions in the military at the time.

"Only 20 percent of the ball-turret gunners made it back," said Valdespino's son, Robert. "He lost a lot of friends."

Valdespino survived and later received a degree from Trinity University through the G.I. Bill. He became a math teacher and raised a family in San Antonio. But memories of World War II never left him, in the 1960's Valdespino's dog tags were stolen, taking away a vital connection to his time in the armed forces.

"I thought I probably wouldn't see them (again)," he said.

Decades later a University of Texas at San Antonio professor found the dog tags for sale on eBay. The Institute of Texan Cultures bought them and reached out to Valdespino last year. He was reunited with the precious metal for the first time on Sunday.

"Talking about the war often tough for him, so when he first came in and saw his dog tags you could see in his face it was bringing back good and bad memories," said Robert."

For Valdespino's daughter, Valerie, it's just another strange tale in her father's whirlwind life. "He was kind of upset that they were stolen in the first place, but if they never would have been stolen then this never would've happened," she said.

With the same patriotism and commitment to service that led him to enlist in the military, Valdespino made another sacrifice Sunday. Instead of taking his dog tags home he donated them to the Institute of Texan Cultures.