When I was a kid in the early 1970s, I had a bracelet. It was a metal band engraved with the name, rank and date of loss for an American military member who was either a Prisoner of War (POW) or was Missing in Action (MIA) in Vietnam.

POW/MIA bracelets. Photo: From the Smithsonian The National Museum of American History. http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1273063

Approximately 5 million POW/MIA bracelets were sold from 1970 to 1976. Each bracelet represents a story and were a reminder that these men were more than just a statistic.

A student organization, Voices in Vital America (VIVA), produced and distributed the bracelets to draw attention to the prisoners and the missing in Vietnam. It was also a way to support our military even if you didn’t support the politics of the war. The idea was that you would wear your bracelet until “your” serviceman came home. The program ended in 1976 as it appeared the public had lost interest in Vietnam.

I don’t know what happened to my bracelet, and sadly, don’t remember the name of the service member. I don’t know what happened to “my” POW/MIA. This can be attributed to my generally short attention span, but it’s more likely the fact that my father served in Vietnam meant I didn’t need a reminder that there was a war going on.

Here is a sampling of the many stories I found of people who wore their bracelets for decades.

  • This woman had worn her bracelet for 38 years when the remains of her Green Beret were found, identified and returned home for burial in 2011.
  • This LA Times article tells several stories, but focuses on a couple of men who made it home and the bracelets they have received over the years that bore their names. Make sure you read the second page, and be prepared for a few tears.
  • This woman found the family of her POW and in 2015 gave her bracelet to his grandson.
  • This woman wore her bracelet for 44 years before discovering that her MIA’s remains had been recovered between 1993 and 2000, and identified in 2006. She removed the bracelet and left it at his grave in Arlington National Cemetery in 2016.
  • And one final example, with thoughts from both the woman who wore the bracelet and the POW whose name she couldn’t forget.

You can purchase bracelets from The National League of POW/MIA Families. You can also find them on eBay.

How about my readers? Did you have, or do you still have, a bracelet? Do you know what happened to “your” POW/MIA?