LADY'S ISLAND, SC — Doug Jaquays of Lady's Island can once again click the Zippo lighter he left in Vietnam 44 years ago.
He no longer smokes, but the metal lighter he bought in Da Nang as a teenage Marine now lights something more important than a C-ration Lucky Strike.
It is a symbol of a healthy, new light Vietnam veterans are shining into a dark corner of their lives.
Jaquays remembers buying the lighter with two buddies in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. They were in the exchange at the Da Nang Air Base.
Outside, he paid a South Vietnamese man with a small hammer and chisel to etch the lighter with his Marine Corps handle, "Jake." Below came the bare-bones details of a horrendous battle they had just survived on "Hill 484 L.Z. Mac Feb. 28 (to) Mar. 5."
Karl Marlantes, who served with them in the spring of 1969, describes the experience in his book, "Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War."
On the flip side of the lighter is a statement that young Jake could not have realized was so prophetic:
"No one knows the price of freedom except those who have fought for it."
The Charlie 1/4 boys, now in their mid-60s, spent most of their lives burying those memories.
But when Byron Moore of North Carolina wanted to find out more about his father-in-law's service, that began to change. Moore got a few email addresses of veterans and now has more than 100, and a website with 5,000 pictures. His father-in-law, Harold Wilson, has hosted some of the reunions they now have regularly. They were together at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island this spring when Marlantes was honored, 44 years to the day after crawling up Hill 484 in a firestorm.
One of the veterans Moore located was a respected Navy hospital corpsman they knew as "Doc Sapp."
Steven A. Sapp of Minnesota told Moore a basement flood had ruined his photographs and other physical links to Vietnam. But he said he had one thing. It was a lighter he'd found in Vietnam. He wondered whether Moore could help him find "Jake."
Moore knew exactly where to find him, and he surprised Jaquays with the lighter at a reunion last fall.
Jaquays now holds up the lighter when he speaks in the "Share the Legacy" program at Parris Island. Veterans volunteer to address the recruits right before graduation.
Jaquays wants the newest Marines to understand they've made a lifetime commitment.
"I want them to know you just never know what might happen years down the road," Jaquays said.
The long-forgotten lighter has new life because the boys of Hill 484 are creeping out of life's foxholes to find each other and talk about it.
"It's been a good thing, it really has," Jaquays said, "for me and a lot of others."