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Lost Relics Journey Back Home

The following article was written by Rob Geesen who returned from Vietnam and brought school class rings back to the US, one of which is from Richmond Hill High School class of 1969. These class rings are possibly from imprisoned or killed American soldiers. Mr. Geesen's sole intention is finding the soldier or the family who are the rightful owners of these rings.

By Rob Geesen
I arrived in Vietnam and wanted to see Saigon again. I spent the evening touring HCMC- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) with a cyclo (a seated open-air cart propelled by a bicyclist) driver. As I was touring the city I asked him about a tour out to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This extensive network of nearly 500 km of Viet Cong tunnels was used in the French Indochina and Vietnam wars. The tunnels had complete facilities, from kitchens to printing presses and even street signs, all of which were used to aid the Viet Cong military. I had been intrigued with these while talking to a tunnel rat, an American soldier who actually entered these tunnels pursuing the North Vietnamese, during the Vietnam War. The driver told me he would borrow a car and take me there the next day.
The next day he shows up at my hotel with a motorcycle. At the tunnels we had a tour guide who spent the whole time talking about the Vietnamese heroes killing the American soldiers from the tunnels, quite a humiliating tour. Yet I was intrigued with all the tunnels and their size. I also spent a lot of time looking at the remnants and artifacts from the war. The driver noticed how everything intrigued me and mentioned he had a friend who had been a North Vietnamese soldier who had many war souvenirs. We drove back to HCMC to the Saigon War Museum. Everything seemed Vietnam versus America. From there I went to the Presidential Palace and the Notre Dam Cathedral. At each stop he mentions his friends private museum of American Artifacts. The next morning I spent some time at the markets buying gifts for family and friends. Who do I run into but the cyclo driver? He offered to take me to visit the friend with all the war remnants so I decided what the heck, let's do it. The driver took me down some tiny, dirty back alleys. If I had not been with him all over the countryside the day before I might have been nervous. But I trusted him, even though it did cross my mind it would be a good area of the city to kill me, rob me, and dump my body. We ended up in this tiny dilapidated old apartment building that a small earthquake would probably reduce to ruins. He introduced me to his friend who spoke very broken English who told me about his role in the war. He was a tunnel spy who would spend time in the tunnels right under the American Command and listen in on the conversations of the American soldiers and where they were holding their maneuvers the next day. Then they would lay in ambush in the tunnels. They would rise up out of the tunnels and ambush the soldiers. They could then loot the bodies, and return to the tunnels before reinforcements arrived. They would take watches, jewelry, zippos (lighters), and anything of value out of their wallets and pockets. They would then disappear into the tunnels before the reinforcements arrived.
He then brought out an old US army wooden ammo box filled with his "treasures". He showed me knives, including a Boy Scout pocketknife. He showed me military uniform parts, berets, canteens, etc. all US military issue. Finally he pulled out a metal first aid box, and dumped out the jewelry. Necklaces, a Catholic scapular- he just knew it was unique not what it was, a small crucifix from a rosary, several religious medals and several military medals. Being Catholic my heart was touched by the religious items, but when I saw a collection of class rings my heart skipped a beat. These could maybe be identified and returned to their rightful owners. They belonged at home in the US and I needed to return them. I asked him what he would take for all of his treasures. He threw a price of $1500 at me! I pulled the Boy Scout pocketknife and religious items and rings into a pile. $800 I counted all my money and had $185. I told him that was all I had and to make me a better deal. Eventually the pile got smaller and smaller. Every time he'd come down in price he'd remove a few items. He'd pull the Boy Scout pocketknife out of the pile, I would put it back. He'd pull rings and I'd put them back. Eventually he had the class rings and the knife. $350 I figured the 9 rings at $20 were a very fair price, but he kept insisting on $350, and finally $300. I said forget it. As we were leaving he called me back. $250 Again we left. He called me back again. He and the cyclo driver talked in Vietnamese and the cyclo driver said to me "one more time" I went inside and he said $220. I shook my head no and turned to leave. He removed the pocketknife and said $200. I pulled the knife back into the pile and said $180. The knife was removed again, and he said $180. I handed him $175, gave the cyclo driver $5, scooped up the rings and headed for the door. He said something to the cyclo driver in Vietnamese and he grinned at me. I asked what was said and was told I was the toughest negotiator they had ever seen. Hence the 9 rings were mine. I figured that $175 is probably the majority of the old soldier's income for the next year. But still felt bad that it was money profited by American blood. But the words kept running through my mind were "I gave a little, so many, gave their all. Their rings are coming home." I feel the heavens sent me back to HCMC. Now the rings are back in their homeland and perhaps will find their true homes!

THE RICHMOND HILL HIGH SCHOOL RING
richmond hill hs 1969 class ringRecently, Rob Geesen contacted the Richmond Hill Historical Society seeking our help. One of the nine rings belonged to a graduate from Richmond Hill High School from the class of 1969. It is the sincere hope of Mr. Geesen that it be reunited with its owner or family. "I do not wish to profit from this endeavor. I purchased the rings to get them home from foreign soil. When I saw them my heart skipped a beat for all the soldiers who gave their all." The ring has no initials or inscription and the original red faceted garnet colored stone has been replaced with a smooth green stone. If there are any graduates from the class of 1969 who can provide us information or provide us with a '69 yearbook it would be very much appreciated.

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