I was in elementary school during the Vietnam War, but it became popular among the girls in my class to purchase a bracelet imprinted with the name of a solder classified as a prisoner of war or missing in action.
At the time I was more interested in seeing if I could get away with rolling my uniform skirt to thigh revealing lengths without the nuns catching on than I was in being either a war supporter or protester. I didn’t know anyone personally who was in Vietnam and it was – for me, anyway – something that was happening far away from my little hometown.
In my defense, I was still a child. I didn’t “get” what was going on in the world at the time. The whole hippie movement seemed bizarre, although I sported long straight blonde hair and wore bell bottoms whenever I wasn’t in my school uniform. Woodstock was a yellow bird in the Peanuts comic strip – not some rock festival in upstate New York. For me, it was all about getting to purchase my first bra and not about burning it. And it was all about dodging the ball – not about dodging the draft.
So we weren’t being political; we were following a trend. Or at least I was. Nevertheless, we were aware enough that we hoped the name etched on that bracelet belonged to a soldier who would soon find his way home.
These days I can scarcely remember the name of my 7th grade homeroom teacher, but I can – even at my advanced age – remember the name of the POW soldier engraved on my bracelet.
What prompted this latest walk down memory lane? Well, I recently read an article about a woman in Toledo who returned the POW/MIA bracelet she had held onto for decades to the 91-year-old serviceman who, clearly, was not still missing in action since he lives in a retirement community in Melbourne, Florida.
I hadn’t thought about those bracelets in years. So it was somewhat surprising that the soldier’s name etched on my bracelet would come back to me so easily: LCDR Aubrey Nichols.
Back when we were in grade school, we were pretty much limited to the Encyclopedia Britannica for any research we wanted to do. And unless you were really, really famous, you probably didn’t make the cut. But now…well, now we have Google. And you can find pretty much anyone on there. Well, you might be a little harder to find if, say, you're in the witness protection program or something, but you know what I mean.
So, naturally, I searched the name Aubrey Nichols. To my surprise, there was more than one person with that name, which seemed pretty unusual and distinctive. Of course, I think my own name is pretty unusual and distinctive, but when I Googled my married name I found a bunch of us out there.
Anyway, back to my soldier. (How DO I go off on these tangents?!) I was pretty much able to eliminate the guy in Tuscaloosa who was busted for drunk driving. Clearly, he is much too young to have served in Vietnam. But, after a few stops and starts, I found my guy. He’s from El Paso, TX, and he was 32-years-old when he was shot down over Laos in May of 1972. He was released nearly a year later, in March of ’73.
|Prisoner of War Medal|
I’m thinking I probably wore that bracelet long after he was released and never knew that he was a free man. But I’m certainly happy that that was the outcome. As is he, I’m sure.
Like the woman in Toledo, I’d love to send my bracelet back to this brave man, who would now be 73-years-old. Perhaps, like the former POW who lives in Florida, he’s received many of these bracelets over the years. Except, um, I haven’t a clue where that bracelet went. Heck, I can’t even find a ring I wore last week, let alone a bracelet I wore 40 years ago!
So, sadly, there will be no fun follow-up to this story. But in my head, I have a connection to a complete stranger who never knew that I thought of him daily and wore his name on my wrist for a couple years. I hope he is happy and well and that he has had a good life. And, even though I can’t send him a bracelet with his name engraved on it, I can express my gratitude to him and send it out in cyberspace. So, to LCDR Aubrey Nichols, I thank you for your service to your country. Your sacrifices did not go unnoticed – even if one of the people doing the noticing was a schoolgirl in Ohio.
And I am thankful you returned home.