In 1973, more than 40 years ago the last combat missions of the Vietnam war were flown. In one of those strange twists of fate, I who had come late to the war, flew the last fighter combat mission. I think back to those days often as if they were yesterday.
At the time, it was my habit to wear two bracelets. On my left arm was a POW bracelet with the name of a man missing in action. In the 1970’s, many aircrew members wore POW bracelets and Missing in Action, MIA Bracelets. This kept the name of the hero who had been lost in our hearts and minds, even if we did not know them personally. I wore this bracelet with the understanding that I would keep it on until the person returned from the war. My bracelet had the name of an Air Force captain lost in about 1968 over North Vietnam, very similar to the one in the photo from wikipedia.
On my right arm was a silver ID bracelet with my name and wings on it. It was the custom of fighter jocks to wear these flashy bracelets, which I suppose fit the image. They were composed of solid gold and silver in two or three strands of chain and were purchased in Laos or from the local Thai jewelry shops. The bracelet was fairly cheap only about $30.00 at the time for the silver ones and about $100 for the all gold.
I no longer wear the POW bracelet, although for many years it was in a box on my dresser. Then in one of the 8 or 9 moves I made in the Air Force it disappeared. I have no idea now what happened to it.
I still wear the ID bracelet. People always ask me about it and I tell them that it was the common feeling that if we were shot down we would have something to trade. I sometimes get a quizzical look and even a the question: Trade for what? The answer of course is very simple: my life.
I don’t know if this trade would have worked had I been shot down.
Perhaps it was just a security blanket as I flew combat over Vietnam — that and the 38 caliber pistol I had strapped to my leg, which provided a different kind of security.
The bracelet today serves the purpose of the earlier POW one.
When I put it on each day, I think back to those that were lost, those who paid a far greater price than the one I paid for this silver bracelet so long ago.