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Nearly 50 years after his Canon was stolen in Vietnam, vet is reunited with it

Startup companies are designing advanced tracking devices to locate stolen cameras, but a good old-fashioned label did the trick for one Oklahoma resident — nearly 50 years after his camera was stolen.

While Leon Hembree served in Vietnam during the late 1960s, he formed a passion for taking photos, and since cameras were cheap in the capital of Saigon, he bought several. One particular Canon 8mm cinema camera, however, was stolen from his bag shortly after he purchased the camera.

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Steven Bridges recently spotted the camera in a pile at an auction, and with no one bidding on it, he won the old camera for $6. Bridges inspected the camera — with film still inside — at home, when he noticed Hembree’s name and Saigon, Vietnam, etched in the side of the camera.

Bridges, deciding to see if he could track the veteran down, asked the local American Legion in Tecumseh, Oklahoma, for help finding the camera’s original owner. The post commander, Michael Ballard, sought out help finding the original owner through social media.

Two days was all it took for Hembree to call and claim the camera. Bridges, finding that Hembree lived close by, set up a meeting and returned the camera to the Marine and Army veteran.

“It’s good to know that there are wonderful people in this world that are willing to do for others,” said Hembree, who served in Vietnam with the Army 124th Transportation Co. The veteran still has photos from that early collection of cameras, including shots from the shows that Bob Hope put on for the troops.

The veteran plans to give the camera, which still appears to be in working condition, to his grandchildren — after seeing if he can save the film inside, that is.