The memories came flooding back for this Marine as a kind stranger returned photos from his deployment nearly a decade ago that the soldier believed had been lost forever.
Benjamin Zellmann, 32, of Front Royal, Va., said his camera and computer were stolen from his home shortly after he returned from his first deployment to Iraq in 2008.
“It was a lot," Zellmann told InsideEdition.com. "I was devastated. It was a big chunk of me that had gotten taken.”
He explained that the pictures captured moments with his Marine Corps brothers in the desert during which time he was a lance corporal.
Little did he know, a man named Matt Walker happened to stumble upon the memory card to his camera, and held onto it for years, unable to track Zellmann down himself.
After spotting news stories surrounding Veterans Day on television, Walker said he wanted to reach out to WTTG’s Lauren DeMarco with the pictures, in hopes she might be able to help find the photos’ rightful owner.
“One of my buddies from my Afghanistan deployment was like, ‘Man, Zellmann, did you see that news article Fox did about you?’” Zellmann said. “I said, ‘Man, Fox ain’t do no news article on me, you’re making stuff up,’ but my phone just blew up. There were all these notifications on my phone.”
He then contacted DeMarco.
“Less than 24 hours later, I got some tips saying the guy’s name was Ben,” DeMarco told InsideEdition.com. “Before I could try to find him, Ben called the station and said, ‘You did a story on me? You have my pictures?’”
When he was presented the photos in WTTG’s studio Sunday night, he said his memories from nearly a decade ago came right back, including happier times with some of his friends who never returned from deployment.
“It’s just flashbacks,” he explained. “You forget about it all because it blends together, but these specific moments with these guys — they’re good guys. One of the best groups of guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving with."
Zellmann said revisiting the photos and having strangers reaching out to thank him for his service came at the right moment in his life. Between moving across the country last month, starting a new job and going through a divorce, Zellmann said rediscovering the photos brightened his spirits.
“It’s really heartwarming just knowing that these guys will always have my back,” Zellmann said.