There it was. In the back corner of a jewelry box drawer, hidden under a ticket stub from a 1976 Doobie Brothers concert, I found the silver POW bracelet that I’d worn during my high school and college years. I’d spent a thousand hours staring at the name on the bracelet and wondering what was happening to the man it represented.
Back in those days, these bracelets were sold for a small fee to support the effort to locate and return U.S. prisoners of war from the Vietnam conflict. Once purchased, the owner vowed to wear the bracelet 24/7 until the fate of the soldier was known. I prayed for those returned, for those still missing, for those who served and made it home, for the families whose lives were forever changed. I prayed a lot. I didn’t know what else to do.
Prayers seemed to be answered one day when Captain D’s name appeared on the returned list that was printed in the newspaper. I was ecstatic! I felt connected to him in some way and was overjoyed he’d be returning to his family. I remember getting an official blue sticker with a white star and placed that next to Captain D’s name on the bracelet which signified his release. Since this was before the days of the internet, I never knew what became of “my” Captain D.
As the years progressed, I graduated, got married and started having kids. Every so often, the bracelet would surface in my jewelry box, still an important reminder of those years. Captain D, in bracelet form, moved with me nine times over 40 years around Virginia and was used as a “show and tell” item several times by my kids. When I moved the concert ticket and saw the bracelet, it was like finding an old friend.
But this time was different.
I decided to try and find Captain D and offer him the bracelet. A quick Google search led me to his February 2012 obituary detailing the life of this decorated war hero who continued a distinguished military career after he returned from Vietnam. I was suddenly sadder than I should have been, considering we’d never met. Perhaps I’d been trigged by the loss of my own dad only six months before. I wondered if the family might be interested in my treasure. I called the funeral home and explained my mission. A very pleasant woman told me they’d contact the family with my information. Within an hour I got a call from Steve in Nevada.
“That’s a weird number,” I thought as I answered my phone.
“Hi, my name is Steve and I’m the son of Captain D. The funeral home just called to say you had one of my dad’s POW bracelets and you’d like to give it to us?” My heart stopped and I felt my eyes start to well with tears. It was hard to speak but Steve was patient.
We started to talk and both became very emotional. We shared the pride we felt for our fathers, how we wished our children could have known them as we did and how we missed our dads being a steady presence in our lives. We shared like strangers do when they have no fear of judgment and speak freely from the heart.
“Why did you call the funeral home?” Steve asked. “I mean, why did you call today?”
“I was cleaning out a drawer and found it under an old Doobie Brothers concert ticket,” I explained. “What? You’re never going to believe this,” Steve said. “I’m driving to a doctor’s appointment and I had this craving to hear the Doobie Brothers. I’ve got it playing on my IPod right now!” We both laughed.
I got his address and told him I’d take a few days to compose a letter describing the bracelet’s journey the past 40 years and send it to him, which I did. In addition to those details, I wanted the family to know why this project had been so important to me. Here is a portion of what I shared with Steve:
My own father died several months ago and he was my hero. As a young soldier, he had been held for a time in a German POW camp during WWII and had nightmares about it until the day he died at age 88. Although he ran a successful business for decades, was active in local politics and sat on many community boards, he was haunted by his war experiences. My mother’s brother was shot down over France in 1944 and my mom waited to find out what happened for nearly 30 years. Although I don’t presume to understand what you, your mother and family went through, I do know how war affected my family.
I bought this bracelet as a way to support POWs and their families and bring attention to their situation. I wore it everywhere and never took it off. I remember scanning the newspaper every time “the lists” came out searching for your dad’s name. I first scanned the returnee list, and when I didn’t find his name there, I’d check the deceased list hoping not to find him listed. I prayed for your dad and your family every day. The day I saw Capt. D’s name on the returnee list, I was ecstatic and hoped he was returned unharmed. I believe I remember wearing the bracelet for a couple years more to remember the other POWs and those who were still missing in action. I am so delighted your dad came home to you. I know you must have been a young boy at the time, but I hope it helps to know thousands of people were sending love and prayers to your dad and your entire family.
With my own dad’s passing, it’s been a comfort to hear stories from others about him, to find notes in his handwriting or long forgotten mementos buried in drawers. When I found this bracelet I felt compelled to give it to him, or a family member. I am sorry I didn’t find your dad before his death, but I’m happy to have found you. If this does end up with your son as you mentioned on the phone, please tell him his grandfather was admired and respected by those who sincerely appreciate his service to our country. Please know how much I admire the sacrifices your mother made as a military wife.
I know this bracelet has now found its way home.
I sent the bracelet off to Nevada, happy to know the family would have this keepsake. Within a few days, I received a beautiful handwritten note from Steve. He said he was going to share my letter with his mom when she visited for Easter and planned to give the bracelet to his own son, now a proud member of the military who had just the week before asked about his grandfather’s career. My tears flowed again as I felt so grateful to be a small part of this family’s story.
It is just amazing to me the way life flows, bringing people and events together at just the right time. It’s funny…whenever I think of meeting Steve this way and the stories we shared, I hear “Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers playing in the background.