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“Hey, did you guys see this thing for POW bracelets?” Cathy came bounding into 14D with a mail order flyer. “We should order some.”
It was November of 1972 and I was a college freshman at an expensive but academically mediocre all-girl junior college in Miami, Florida. I took the paper from her and began to read aloud. “Over a thousand American soldiers have been held as Prisoners of War in North Vietnam. Our goal is to make sure this stays in our awareness until each soldier is returned to us. Please order a POW/MIA bracelet and pledge to wear it until your soldier comes home.” I checked the cost – only $2.50 which for the standard bracelet and $3.50 for the copper one, even by 1972 standards, was really cheap. The idea appealed to me instantly. “Yeah, let’s do it!”

So on that day, several young women from Bauder Fashion College in Miami, Florida, marched to the post office, got our money orders for $2.50 each, slapped on our 8 cent postage stamps and ordered our bracelets from the address on the somewhat amateurish but passionately produced flyer.

Several weeks passed before I received the small lumpy manila envelop in the mail. In it was a bumper sticker : POW/MIA: I WANT THEM ACCOUNTED FOR, a many times folded sheet of white paper with program information, and a nickel plated silver colored cuff type inexpensive bracelet with an engraved rank, name and date. The point was to clamp the bracelet onto our wrist, and keep it there until the person whose name was on the bracelet came home. I studied the inscription:

LTJG E. James Broms
8 – 1 – 1968

Wow, my guy (as we thereafter referred to ‘our’ soldier) had been missing since I was in eighth grade and about a month after Bobby Kennedy died. Bummer, I thought. My idea of celebrating his homecoming by triumphantly removing the bracelet upon his return lost some steam. Nevertheless, a deal is a deal . “Okay, E. James, here we go.” I put the bracelet on my right wrist, squeezing the ends together.

And there he stayed. I only took it off once - to emcee a beauty pageant- because the person who supplied my gown thought it “ruined the lines of my silhouette.” All evening James flashed into my mind and I vowed to never take it off again. And I didn’t. Through my college years…through graduation…through my return to Ohio and job interviews, job placement and through my wild and crazy early 20s social life. Day or night, professional or partying…while I slept, showered or even while “doing the deed” the bracelet never left my arm. Until one night in 1977…

I was in a Columbus area night club with friends. A man with whom I had an intense to-the-depths-of-our-souls type of relationship, and hadn’t seen in months, walked into the club. I saw him, gasped and the bracelet broke off my arm into two pieces. No kidding; it really happened, just like that. I placed both pieces in a secure pocket in my purse and turned my attention to the situation at hand. The next morning I was scheduled to make a quick visit to the warehouse of the clothing chain for which I worked and while I was counting Jones of New York jackets, someone slipped into the break room through an open window and stole my handbag. Money, license, keys – replacing all that was inconvenient, but what could never be replaced was E. James Broms.

I’ve often wondered about the cosmic implication of those events and the only thing I can come up with was that it’s not about a strip of metal and it’s sure as heck not about me. It’s about one person honoring another. It’s about a man who put himself into harms way – either by choice or by draft – and got the short end of the dice roll. Honoring such a person transcends politics or our opinions about war, specific or in general.

The last contact anyone had with James was while he was piloting an A4C Skyhawk over the Gulf of Tonkin. He was flying the fourth position in a four plane airstrike, and his last transmission was “Puffs all around me.” That’s war, I suppose. He was 24 at the time.

In the mid 80s I was able to visit his name on a traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial. When I finally visited DC in 2004, I couldn’t wait to visit and etch/rub his name as a keepsake. Unfortunately, the wall was being renovated and I was unable to view that portion. “It’s not about the wall, it’s not about me” echoed through my thoughts.

If James is still alive, he turned 68 earlier this month. It’s unlikely. However, when I shuffle past the “stuff” of bracelets and walls and self congratulatory ego, I know what’s important. The spirit, the essence of who this young man was is definitely rattling around the cosmos somewhere. And to that spirit I say, “Mahalo, James. And Godspeed.”



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jun. 5th, 2011 02:12 am (UTC)
are the kinds of entries that I miss...
it's so nice to have you back, Marti.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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