Back in junior high I bought a POW bracelet. For $5 you’d get a small band of silver engraved with the name of a POW and the date he was captured. In 1972 when I received my bracelet, my POW had already been confined for three years. I wore the bracelet and prayed faithfully for his release. In 1973, he was part of Operation Homecoming when almost 600 POWs were released and finally brought home.
I read in the news that my POW had been hung over the limb of a tree and beaten. Below him were three fresh graves, with a fourth one dug that he was told would be his. I couldn’t believe that of all the POWs released, mine was one who had been interviewed. I remember wishing I could write and let him know I’d prayed for him and was sorry he’d been tortured, but I was happy he was home.
Of course that wasn’t possible. The bracelet was placed in my memory box and the only time I really thought about him was when I put something new in the box and glimpsed the silver band.
Then we started hearing about PTSD, alcoholism, drug abuse and homelessness among the Viet Nam vets. Every time there was a new story I wondered if my POW was among them, or had he somehow survived those tortures, too. There was no way to find out.
This past March a new exhibit opened at the Special Ops Museum in Fayetteville, NC – The Animal Called POW. Reading the article about it in The Charlotte Observer got me curious again about my POW. This time I had Google. And I found him.
He was only 21 and had been on patrol when a concussion grenade hit him in the head, he’d been shot in the leg as well. He was moved through four POW camps in his 1,498 days of captivity. I found other information about him, but it was his obituary from last September that told me all I needed and wanted to know about my POW.
He was only 63 when he died and was predeceased by a daughter. He’d continued to serve in both the Reserve and back in Active duty until 1977. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Cross of Gallantry with palm. He worked as an engineer for Amtrak, as the Dean of Students at a high school, and as a patrolman. He was an avid reader, history buff, sports fan and gun collector. He left a mother, a wife, a son, and three daughters.
I teared up when I found my POW had not only survived, he’d had a life.