ORRINGTON, ME (WABI/Gray News) - While serving during the Vietnam war a veteran from Millinocket, ME, had his helmet stolen.
“An Australian ‘acquired’ the hat at the mess hall from me while we were having a bite to eat,” Paul Mott said to WABI.
He told the story to his grandson, Brayden, who made it his mission to get it back. Fifty years after it was taken, Brayden did just that.
Mott, who served in the military until 1971, was in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
In the summer of '69, Mott had the helmet engraved at a shop in East Saigon just before it was taken by the Australian.
Mott wondered about his helmet for decades, until 15 years ago he received a phone call.
“Got a call from the guy that took the helmet,” Mott said. “His daughter … quizzed me a little bit about who I was, and she eventually stated that they had something that belonged to me.”
Mott said that Australians who served at the time were issued soft hats, and the man said he took the helmet for protection.
During the call, the man said he’d return the helmet, but there was a catch.
"He told me if I wanted the helmet back that I would have to go to Australia and get it," Mott said. "And that was a little out of my reach so I just kind of put it on the back burner and forgot about it."
Brayden, who is close to his grandfather, had heard the story multiple times, and that his grandfather believed he’d never see the helmet again.
"And I thought, how cool would that be if we could actually bring it back," Brayden said.
Australia is a long, and expensive trip. Brayden's mother made him a deal; if he came up with half the cost of going, which is $1500 – she’d take him.
Brayden started mowing lawns and raking leaves.
“I got the money for it and she finally had to fulfill her end of the bargain,” Brayden said.
Off they went to Australia for 11 days, armed with a name and address from 15 years ago.
"We get down there and we call the phone number," Brayden said. They asked the woman on the other end of the phone if she had the helmet and she said ‘yes.’
“When I heard the lady say over the phone they still have the helmet it was shocking," Brayden said.
Brayden and his mom decided to keep the fact they found the helmet a secret from Mott until they returned from their trip in early January.
"So, I had him close his eyes and I take it out of the bag and put it on his lap," Brayden said.
"When I open my eyes and I saw the hat in the condition that it was in, or is in, I was just amazed. It was just about the way that I had last seen it," Mott said.
Brayden said it was important to find the helmet because his grandfather does not tell many stories about Vietnam, but this was the one thing he shared.
"So, I thought well if it's the one thing he really cares to tell me, it's the one thing that he should have back. So that's why I was so determined to go and get it,” Brayden said.