Another mission accomplished, another soldier safe back home.
Sunday morning, in the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum, Army Staff Sgt. Tom Moran Jr. of Monterey County returned a rosary he'd borrowed from Modesto's John Castaneda because the rosary did its job and Moran lived to give it back.
It has offered protection through three wars in four countries and for five soldiers.
All five came home alive and well.
The Modesto Bee first told the rosary story in 2004, when it had guarded three lives, beginning with that of Castaneda, who wore it into battle in Vietnam in 1970, earning a Bronze Star for heroism.
He recently found a photo of himself wearing the beads and crucifix.
"It was in my attic," he said. The photo was taken in Vietnam in September 1970.
"Nineteen days later, I walked into an ambush," he said. He came through unscathed, and believes the rosary protected him.
He carried it until 2001. Chatting with friend Art Martinez shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Martinez told him, "My son's going to war."
"I told him, 'Art, I've got a rosary that went to Vietnam with me,' " Castaneda said. "If Carlos wants to borrow it, it will protect him. But he's got to give it back to me when he gets back.' That would mean he was coming home (alive)."
Carlos Martinez carried the rosary with him into Kuwait and throughout his tour of duty. He came back healthy, though some of his friends were wounded.
Martinez returned the rosary to Castaneda.
In 2003, Castaneda sat in a dentist's office in Modesto. Patricia Hiner was there as well, and the worried mom mentioned, "My son's going to war."
"I told her the history of it," Castaneda said. "I offered it to her."
Jeremy Hiner carried the rosary into Iraq. He kept it in a waterproof pouch, with the rosary on one side and a Blessed 4-in-1 Miraculous Medal on the other, Patricia Hiner wrote to Castaneda in October 2003. It brought Jeremy home safely in April 2004 and he returned the rosary to Castaneda later that year.
A year later, Castaneda received a phone call from the parents of a soldier named Andrew Giles who was about to deploy Iraq.
"He's the nephew of someone I used to know," Castaneda said. "(The parents) had heard about the rosary through the (Bee). It was the first time someone had asked to borrow the rosary."
In fact, Giles' mom came down from Corvallis, Ore., to get it, and Castaneda helped pay her travel costs.
Giles carried the rosary throughout his tour of duty in Iraq, through some vicious battles and harrowing circumstances, as he described in a letter to Castaneda when he returned the rosary shortly before Christmas 2005.
He wore it through the explosion of a roadside bomb that injured eight of his comrades, a truck bomb that exploded next to his Humvee, a 500-pound bomb that hit a home less than 100 meters away, an ambush in which U.S. forces killed eight insurgents and captured more than 100 while having only two of their own wounded, and 200 combat patrols.
"I greatly appreciate you allowing me to be part of your history," Giles wrote. "And thank you for becoming part of my history. Once again, the crucifix is home safely. Once again, the bearer of the crucifix is home safely. We cannot ask for more."
Which brings us to Moran and full circle because he returned the rosary to Castaneda in the same place where he got it: the Coliseum parking lot.
They met while tailgating before a Raiders game in 2011.
"The kid said he was going to Afghanistan," Castaneda said. "I had the rosary in my wallet. I said, 'Hey, Tom, here's the story of my rosary. You can take it with you, but you've got to promise to bring it back.' "
"I knew it had been to Vietnam, Kuwait and Iraq twice," Moran said.
The rosary did its job once more.
"It protected me, my buddies and my family (from getting the dreaded phone call and visit)," Moran said. "It got me through hard times, with friends getting hurt."
And he wore it when a roadside bomb detonated, damaging his Stryker vehicle.
"I was standing in the turret in the back of the Stryker," he said. He came through unharmed. "That was my closest call."
Moran recently re-upped for four more years. He'll be stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, in August and doesn't expect to be redeployed to Afghanistan.
In an emotional moment for both men, Moran returned the rosary to Castaneda before the Raiders played Kansas City on Sunday afternoon, just as he had gotten it a year ago.
The final handoff?
Said Castaneda, "I hope it's never needed again."
Another mission accomplished, another soldier safely back home.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.