In 1957, while playing “army” on the playground at W.C. Whaley Elementary School in Monticello, 9-year-old Hugh Mills, Jr. lost one of his prized possessions: his father’s WWII dog tag.
On January 18, 2015, while metal detecting on the property where the school once stood, Monticello Police Chief Eddy Deaton found the little boy’s lost treasure.
Deaton would eventually learn that he had found the long-lost treasure of a little boy who would go on to become one of the U.S. Army’s most decorated combat pilots in the Vietnam War and author of Low Level Hell.
Deaton said he was metal detecting Sunday on what was once the W.C. Whaley Elemetary School playground when his detector “hit on a target.”
“I started digging and about eight or nine inches down I came up with what looked like a military dog tag,” Deaton said.
After cleaning the dog tag, Deaton could clearly see the name “Mills, Hugh L.” and a military identification number. He then set out to see if he could find the owner. He was successful. The dog tag belonged to Lt. Col. Hugh L. Mills, Jr., the son of World War II veteran Hugh L. Mills, Sr.
Mills was thrilled to learn that Deaton had found his father’s WWII dog tag.
“I’m convinced I lost it while playing army with David Marsh on the playground at recess,” Mills told Seark Today Tuesday morning.
Hugh L. Mills, Jr. attended school in the 1950s in Monticello where his father, Dr. Hugh Mills, Sr., a World War II veteran, was a high school teacher, principal and later school superintendent. In 1959, the family moved from Monticello to Hot Springs (next door to another young boy who would later become governor of Arkansas and president of the United States). Dr. Mills eventually moved to Fayetteville where he was the Dean of Education at the University of Arkansas. Dr. and Mrs. Mills still live in Fayetteville.
Lt. Col. Hugh L. Mills, Jr. would go on to become a highly decorated U.S. Army combat pilot. During his two tours in Vietnam as an aero scout and one as a cobra pilot, Mills flew more than 3,300 combat hours and developed many of the U.S. Army’s air cavalry aero scout tactics. He was shot down 16 times and wounded three times, earning numerous decorations for valor, including three Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, four Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Bronze Stars, one for valor in ground combat. The government of Vietnam awarded him the Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star and Palm, the Vietnamese Honor Medal First Class and the Civic Action Honor Medal First Class.
Mills retired from the Army in 1993 as the U.S. Army Representative to the Federal Aviation Administration. Now the undersheriff in Jackson County, Missouri, Mills has been in law enforcement for more than 30 years.
He is in the Army Aviation Hall of Fame and just last year was inducted into the Arkansas Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame.
“I am very honored to return this treasure to a decorated Vietnam veteran,” Deaton said, adding that he put it in the mail (next day air) Tuesday afternoon.
Mills plans to make a trip to Monticello in the near future when he will have lunch with Deaton and give him an autographed copy of his book.