POW/MIA — You are not forgotten


At the moment it just seemed like the natural thing to do. I was working as a telephone operator for Pacific Northwest Bell in Longview.

It was 1971, and one of my co-workers was selling POW bracelets — simple nickel-plated bracelets printed with the name of a serviceman who was missing in action or a prisoner of war in the Vietnam conflict. I paid $2.50 and promised not to take the bracelet off until the person named on the bracelet came home.

Most of my co-workers bought bracelets too — some because they had sons in the military, some because their husbands were veterans and some just because it seemed like the cool thing to do.

My fiance was a member of the Green Berets, serving in Vietnam, and I remember saying a prayer that his name would never appear on one of these bracelets.

“Capt. Frederick Hess Jr. 3-29-69,” mine read.

There was a phone number you could call to get more information about “your” POW. They told me his plane was shot down while on a defoliation mission. He and his pilot ejected. The pilot was rescued, but Capt. Hess was not. He left behind a wife and a year-old daughter who were trying to stay hopeful about their husband/father who was officially listed as missing in action.

Back in Kelso, months passed, life moved on. My Special Forces guy came home from Vietnam. We got married. He went to college and got his B.A., and I kept working for Ma Bell and got my Ph.T. degree — “Putting Hubby Through.”

I still thought about Capt. Hess, prayed for him and his family. I remained hopeful that he would be found. I remember watching TV night after night in the late 1970s as plane load after plane load of Vietnam vets came home. Each one’s name was announced as he walked, or limped or was carried off the plane, and I wished with all my might that I would hear the name “Capt. Frederick Hess Jr.”

But I never did.

They never found him.

Over the years, other folks would mention the bracelet I was wearing. If someone was wearing their own bracelet we would compare stories about “our” serviceman. I’d tell them that Capt. Hess had been promoted to major. Many would mention to me that they also had worn a POW bracelet in the past but it had broken after a few years.

And lately when people notice the bracelet sometimes I have to explain to them what it is.

“So why are you still wearing it?,” they’ll ask.

It’s a simple explanation. When I placed the band on my arm in 1971, I promised not to take it off until he came home. And he hasn’t.

So to this day, I wear the bracelet — a plain silver band. No diamonds. No rubies. Just the words “Capt. Frederick Hess Jr. 3-29-69.”

This column originally appeared in The Daily World on May 30, 2005.

Karen Barkstrom is the editorial assistant at The Daily World. You can call her at 360-537-3925 or email her at kbarkstrom@thedailyworld.com