John Jones, 64, said he had the ring customized with his infantry, initials and Social Security number after serving in the 25th Infantry Army Division in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, KCCI-TV, Des Moines, reported Tuesday.
Jones said he thought the ring was gone for good when it slipped off his finger while swimming at Lake Delhi in 1971.
However, the Lake Delhi dam broke in 2010, emptying the lake, and metal detector enthusiasts, including Steve Gola of Grayslake, Ill, were drawn to the area.
"I knew it was a special ring right when I dug it up. With the eagles on the side and just the way it looked," Gola said.
Gola said he was able to make out the engravings after cleaning the ring and decided to return it to its owner. He said it took the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs two years to track down Jones, who was presented with the ring at Veterans Auditorium in Des Moines Sunday.
"It's a great honor to receive it back. I can't say how much I appreciate it," Jones said.