When efforts to recover a lost cane commemorating Col. Gary "Mickey" Riggs' 29-year military career yielded nothing, Riggs' family thought the Vietnam veteran would never see it again.
Last week, Riggs of Bowling Green was reunited with his cane, which was discovered at a flea market in Franklin, Tenn.
He and his family were surprised to say the least, according to his son, Tim Riggs.
"He was shocked because we didn't really expect after 2 1/2 years to see it again," he said.
It could be put to good use as he is recovering from hip replacement surgery in his digs at Village Manor.
The cane, a dark, twisted wooden stick with a handle shaped like a bald eagle's head, was encrusted with numerous metal emblems representing various stages of the colonel's career.
Starting at the back of the handle and running down the cane's shaft were symbols representing the Special Forces Crest, a Master Parachute Badge, the insignia of his unit, the 178th Airborne, a Vietnam Campaign Medal and a Purple Heart, among others.
During his time in the military, Mickey Riggs received six Purple Hearts. "But one's enough," he said.
“It sort of tells your life to you," Mickey Riggs said of the cane. "The main parts that you were a part of, that were important to you.”
The cane – which was crafted by a soldier who served in Vietnam known as Shorty Mendez, who makes similar canes for other soldiers – was a gift from Lt. Col. Keith Skiles about five years ago, according to Tim Riggs.
“Lot of lives invested in it," Mickey Riggs said, holding up the cane. "A lot of other guys' lives. But it's a memento ... when I use it."
After four tours of duty in Vietnam, Mickey Riggs returned to Western Kentucky University, where he'd studied before voluntarily enlisting, and earned a master's degree in psychology, according to his son Mike Riggs.
From 1981 to 1983, Mickey Riggs served as the commander of U.S. military operations in Venezuela, Mike Riggs said.
At the request of former WKU President Dero Downing, Mickey Riggs took over the school's ROTC program, boosting the program's enrollment from about 60 to more than 400 between 1984 and 1988, the year he retired, Mike Riggs said.
In December 2014, he left the cane in an electric scooter in a Wal-Mart parking lot and, upon realizing this, went back for it but couldn't find it.
“It hurt a lot. I did everything I could to find it,” Mickey Riggs said. "I would have never felt like anybody would take something like that but there's bad guys everywhere.”
After Mickey lost the cane, Tim Riggs set up a Facebook campaign encouraging people to search for it.
“I put it on Facebook and a little over 11,000 people around shared the story," he said. “Nothing ever came of it."
But about two weeks ago, Scottsville resident William Webb was at a flea market when he found the cane with a group of other walking sticks in a ceramic crock, all of which were on sale for $5, he said.
“I took it home, put it in my closet, and it stayed there three or four days and I finally got it out and had my wife see if she could find something out on the internet,” he said.
Early last week, Webb contacted Mike Riggs and the two met the next day at Jimmy Diemer BBQ and Self Storage.
Mickey was thrilled to see the cane again, Mike Riggs said.
"He got a big smile on his face," he said. "He started showing it off when the nurses came in."
Getting the cane back meant the world to Mickey Riggs, Tim Riggs said.
"It's like finding an old friend," he said. "It meant a whole bunch."
— Follow Daily News reporter Jackson French on Twitter @Jackson_French or visit bgdailynews.com.