This story was in my email box this morning and though it's a bit long, I hope you'll take time to read it - what a good lesson for Memorial Day.
LEST WE FORGET
by Gail Bracy
We all wore them in the 70s -- those stainless steel POW-MIA bracelets. The best-dressed high school students had AT LEAST one each, and we all wore them proudly. After all, war was dirty business, and we were doing our part... by remembering. We were wearing bracelets that had the names and ranks of soldiers Missing In Action or who had been captured and kept as Prisoners of War. Our bracelets told which countries the soldiers represented, as well. They listed where the soldiers had been stationed when they'd disappeared and included their home states.
There was information concerning the soldiers' last-known addresses, so if you wanted to, you could send a note to the families, telling them you had their sons' names on your bracelets, and that you'd never forget them. That was the idea, after all -- to wear the bracelets until they came home, or simply to always remember them. I had every intention of writing to the parents of "my guy," but every effort was interrupted by important things thinks like pajama parties, dances, pep rallies, bicycle trips and county fairs - and things like summer camp, tree climbing, book reading and birthday parties. I would remember to write later. I promised myself at least weekly for a number of months that I'd write to his parents, yet never seemed to have the time or the postage stamp. There were no home computers or email messages back then. I would remember next week after final exams. Yes, I'd remember next week. This was important stuff, and I'd remember.
We started choosing colleges. I wanted to find a husband and start a family. Sue was going o be a chemist. Cliff was going to be a missionary on some island in the Pacific, and Wanda was going to be a dental assistant. Joe was going to open a car repair shop and Millie was going to marry Fred and start having children. Everyone was heading out into the big world to make his/her mark. Time passed.... I'd occasionally run across my bracelet as I emptied drawers or filled boxes to go to college, my first apartment, another college, our first house. I'd remember to write after I unpacked and before classes started, babies came, jobs, changed. This was important, and I'd remember. Part of the hesitancy was a result of not knowing what to say.
It was fifteen years after high school graduation that I met John. He sported one of those stainless steel bracelets. No one wore them anymore. Memories of the Vietnam War and life in the 70s rushed through my mind in an embarrassing memory of unmailed letters and unkept promises. I remembered! I remembered the sit-ins, the protest marches, peace signs, "War is not Healthy" posters and black lights. I remembered the perfumes that were named after nature -- Wild Grasses, Ocean Mist, Warm Earth. I remembered John Denver and Annie's Song and bell-bottom pants, chokers and fringed everything. I remembered Richard Nixon's 'ending that war' for us, and how proud I was. I remembered his trip to China. I remembered it all. But the warmth of the memories was soon replaced by the ice-water jolt of the realization that I had unfinished and important business. YOU know the kind -- the complete shock, embarrassment and urgency that makes your heart race and your skin crawl - the kind that makes you hear rushing wind when everything's still, the feeling that you've committed an unforgivable offense. I had forgotten to write The Letter. I had forgotten to wear the bracelet. I had forgotten my commitment to those who were missing or dead. I forgot these people were somebody's children. I had forgotten to remember.
As John fingered the bracelet and told me about his POW, I saw tears glistening in his eyes, threatening at any moment to cut a trail down his cheek and through his beard and mustache. He looked at me and said, "You know, my son graduated from West Point, and he may well be in the same position as these poor guys one day. I pray that it never happens, but if it does, and if God wills it, and my son disappears, I pray that someone remembers. We must never forget."
Lt. Col. Bruce G. Johnson (USA, MI, 6/10/65, South Vietnam), please forgive me. Please forgive us all, lest we forget.