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Lost dog tag returned to WWII soldier's widow

NEPONSET, IL (KWQC/CNN) - A lost piece of history led to an unusual bond between strangers when a metal detector turned up a dog tag lost decades ago.

It started as an interesting hobby for Jim VanStaden, but it led to an incredible gift for the widow of a World War II veteran.

"We found a couple coins, a couple of nails, bottle caps, aluminum foil and then we found the tag," VanStaden said. "It was just really a sense of awe, like, wow."

He discovered the little metal tag under a tree and the name and information of the soldier it once belonged to was still clearly legible - Lawrence Wilt of Bradford, IL.

VanStaden did a little research on Wilt, who went by Larry, and found his last known address not far up the road from where the tag was found. He also discovered his home was once lived in by Wilt's sister.

"Everything we found about him was really great," VanStaden said. "I was like, well, we obviously got to try to find somebody that's worthy of returning this thing to."

Luckily, the search didn't take long. One of VanStaden's coworkers knew the Wilt family. Wilt himself died of a heart attack 26 years ago, but VanStaden was able to meet his wife, Ila, and turn over the connection to her husband's past. He delivered the memento on the 75th anniversary of Wilt's Sept. 20, 1940, enlistment.

"It was strange, I tell you," Ila Wilt said. "Larry never said anything about them being missing. All those years, that's what I couldn't understand how it had been laying in their yard all that long."

VanStaden is hoping he can find the second tag that went with it, but Ila Wilt is happy to just have something to remember her late husband by. It also turned out to be a nice early birthday present. She will turn 93 Oct. 29.

"It's just like him coming back again," Ila Wilt said. "It's a memory. I can't explain it."