Who remembers these?
I remember walking up to a table at a 4th of July festival and asking for one of these. I was probably in junior high school at the time, but I don’t remember exactly when it was. I did know what it was for. A name, rank, and missing in action date was engraved on the bracelets and we were to wear them until the man came home or was reported dead. I remember the adult speaking to me as though I were a child (I was, of course, but what young teenager wanted to be treated like a child?)
“Now, you know what this is?”
“You have to agree not to take it off until he comes home or is reported dead.”
I nodded again. I knew. I agreed.
I wore that bracelet for a few years after the war ended. I scanned the newspaper diligently whenever a list of recovered soldiers appeared. But there never was any report on the man whose name I wore on my left wrist. It did not seem I would ever know what happened to Col. Burris N. Begley, so I took the bracelet off. I thought it was clear he was never coming home.
I wanted him to so badly. I wanted the name I had to be the fortunate one. I wanted to hear that he’d been reunited his family, a war hero, a happy ending.
I woke up this Memorial Day thinking about Col. Begley. He had a distinctive name and in this age of Google, I should be able to find something.
I first found the history of these bracelets, an idea hatched by college students who only wanted to remember the missing of the Vietnam War, not get involved in the controversy. You can read about it here.
I then found the Library of Congress database, which had a file on Col. Begley. He’d first been reported missing in December of 1966. I knew this from my bracelet. That had been all I’d known. Until now. His aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam. The last report they had from him was that he was going to eject. No chute was detected by his fellow pilots. There were conflicting reports. He was killed in action. He might have been a POW as his name was found scratched in the floor of a POW cell. He was declared killed in 1978. That very well may have been the year I took my bracelet off, even without officially knowing this.
The man was from Kentucky, not too far from me. He was only a year younger than my father, who had retired from the Army just two years before Col. Begley went missing. My father survived WWII. I don’t know, but Col. Begley might have as well.
I’m glad to have this information now. I’m glad he wasn’t forgotten by the public. Many besides myself wore his name on their wrists.
Here is a memorial page for Col. Begley. Maybe we never forget all those who sacrificed their lives fighting for our country.