08/06/2013 10:46 am ET Updated Oct 06, 2013

Strangers Find, Return Deployed Service Member's Wedding Band to His Wife

In July 2011, my husband, Dustin, was about to leave for a year-long deployment overseas. We were focusing on family time with our three boys, Ford, Owen and Lindell, in anticipation of the separation. One day, we made a trip to Mt. Katahdin, 80 miles north of our home in Maine for a day of swimming at our favorite spot, an offshoot of the western branch of the Penobscot River, where rushing rapids make a hastily built rope swing particularly fun.

But the fun came to an abrupt and tearful end when Dustin's wedding band, the one he had worn for the past twelve years, slipped off his finger and was lost in the churning waters of the river.

A wedding band is just a piece of metal... until you lose it. Then, suddenly, it encapsulates everything you and your spouse have been through together: every move, every baby, every anniversary and all the ups and downs in between.

I cried on my husband's shoulder on the bank of the river while he quietly whispered into my hair, "We'll buy a new ring before I leave, and someday, I'll come back here and find the real one."

But I already knew the ring was gone.

That week, I wrote an editorial for the local newspaper, the Bangor Daily News, about the lost wedding band. Mostly, the essay was about my struggle to get over the sentimental value of the ring, but in telling the story, I also described where we were swimming and the fact that Dustin had just refused a jeweler's offer to make his ring "like new again": "[Dustin always said] he was proud of the dents and scratches on his ring. It had been through many things in more than a decade: flight school, multiple moves across country, three children, deployments and a few near misses when we thought it was lost forever."

Dustin left in November 2011, the day before Ford's eleventh birthday and the week of Thanksgiving. He had a new wedding band on his finger, but it wasn't the wedding band.

Over the next 10 months, I mostly forgot about the whole thing. What else could I do?

Then, in September 2012, while Dustin was still deployed, I received a cryptic message from someone I didn't know:

Hi Mrs Smiley - My dad, Greg Canders, read your article about losing your husband's ring last year. My dad showed me the article this morning and we decided to attempt to find it. Could you please give me a call as we have found a wedding band and would like you to identify it.
Zac Canders

My first thought was, Is this a joke? My mind admittedly turned darker after that: What motive do these people have for tricking me? What do they want? What are they trying to get?

I was skeptical and somewhat afraid, but also curious. I agreed to meet Greg and Zac at a local restaurant parking lot to see the ring. I was leery of having them come to my home. I regret that now. But how else are we to feel in today's world?

A light rain fell when I met Greg and Zac. They explained that my essay in the newspaper had touched them, and that Greg, a professional diver, had kept the newspaper clipping. On a whim that day they had decided to try to find the ring. They didn't really believe they would.

My heart beat in my throat as I thought about the selflessness of these two men, whom I had never known before.

Greg reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a tiny plastic bag. While my husband was still halfway across the world, I held out my trembling hand, and Greg put the wedding band -- tarnished from 13 months under water -- into it.


The ring on Sarah's right hand, where she wore it until Dustin came home

I closed my fingers around the ring. It had been returned to me by two men I had doubted and questioned, two men who had spent an entire day searching, and who asked for nothing in return. Were they for real? Yes, indeed they are. Good people are among us. Miracles do happen. And true love always comes back.

Three months after Greg and Zac found the ring, Dustin returned home from deployment. He held the ring with the same disbelief that I had, but when I said, "It hardly seems real, does it?", he answered, without hesitation, "I always knew we'd find it."

(This story was also told in the memoir DINNER WITH THE SMILEYS)