Mohave Valley Daily News, Cat Smith, Associated Press
BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. — When Bullhead City resident Paul Flores went to his mailbox on Aug. 29, he didn't expect that the contents of a package postmarked from Belgium would change his family forever.
What Flores didn't know was the package held a memory so dear it still causes tears in his eyes today.
"I thought it was one of those scams people have been getting in the mail," said Flores' wife, Glenda. "He (Paul) came in and handed me the mail, I saw the envelope with the overseas stamp and was about to throw it out but something said 'wait open it' and I did."
As Glenda Flores opened the mailer, a smaller white envelope emerged. "I was still hesitant but I felt something inside," she said. When she opened the other envelope, something fell into her hands and at that very moment her world stood still.
What Glenda was holding in her hands was her son's dog tags, which had been missing for 27 years.
"My heart dropped to my stomach and I began to cry," she said.
The dog tags belonged to their only adopted son, Robert Paul Flores, who had died in 2008.
The story of Robert Flores' military life began when he walked into an Army recruiter's office and enlisted at the age of 19.
"When he told us he joined the Army, we had mixed emotions because it came out of the blue," his mother said.
After being stationed at Fort Irwin in Barstow, Calif., for a short time, Pvt. Robert Flores was soon deployed for a tour of duty to Kamp Vogelsang in Belgium in the early 1980s.
It was there he misplaced his military-issued identification tags, leaving them on the rail of a bed where he had slept for nearly two years during his deployment.
When his battalion had completed its scheduled tour of duty, Robert Flores flew back to the states, bringing with him a new wife and child.
After serving his four years, Robert Flores exited military life and focused on his family, never once thinking about the dog tags.
In 1984, Wim Govaerts, a young private with the Belgian infantry, transferred to Kamp Vogelsang to begin his training for NATO.
"This is why there were American, French, Dutch, German, Belgian and Luxenburg troops stationed there from time to time," said Govaerts in an email. "I was assigned a barrack that the American troops had last slept in."
There in the same barrack, same bed that Flores was assigned, Govaerts found the lost dog tags. According to Govaerts, the chain was hidden behind the bed rail, barely visible.
"I found them after a few days being there. It was when I was turning over in bed I noticed the small chain hanging behind me," he said. "I instantly knew what they were and I think Robert forgot them due to the visibility."
With the American troops already gone from the country, Govaerts didn't know what else to do with them except keep them.
And that is what he did, for close to 27 years he safely tucked them away in a D-Day remembrance box.
As years passed, he said he would think about those tags and who they belonged to but never did a search for the owner until last month.
Govaerts, who was searching for a card, came across the tags on the bottom of that same old box and thought maybe now was the time to see if the owner could be found.
With technology at its best, Govaerts entered the numbers on the dog tags and instantly the owner was located, Robert Paul Flores of Bullhead City.
"I was glad to find him but learning that he was no longer with us was shocking to me, not the news I was expecting to see on my computer screen," wrote Govaerts.
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