Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day


I am often asked about the bracelet I wear on my left wrist. It is faded now, but the writing is still legible. It's a POW-MIA Bracelet from the Vietnam War, and it's not the first one I've had.

Back in the day - when I was in Jr. high and high school - the Vietnam War was still raging. There was an organization called VIVA - founded by a woman named Carol Bates Brown - and you could send in a small contribution and get a bracelet with the name of a soldier who was a prisoner of war or missing in action (hence the POW-MIA designation). Everyone I knew had one, and not just kids - many adults had them too. We were supposed to wear them until our guy came home, and then send it to him so he would know that someone had been thinking of him and praying for him.

When the POWs were released - Operation Homecoming, in 1973 - there were huge lists of names in the paper every day. I would wait for my mom to come home from work everyday with the daily paper and would pour over the lists, looking for my guy. He never came home.

I wore a bracelet with the name Sgt. Herndon A. Bivens on it for many many years. On one of my trips to D.C., I decided I wanted to go to The Wall and leave my bracelet there. I went in the late 1980s with my friend, Franklin (he's gone now, too), and together we found my guy's name on the wall, and it was with sadness that I took my bracelet off and tossed it to the base of The Three Soldiers statue.

As soon as I had done it, I missed its feel on my wrist, but I felt it was the right thing to go. For many years all I knew about Sgt. Bivens was that he was African American, and that he was from Jamaica, New York. Today, since it is Memorial Day, I thought I would look online again.

Herndon Bivens was an Airborne Pathfinder. Pathfinders were dropped ahead of the main force to ready a drop zone. There is an article about his last mission, and there is a photo of him on the U.S. Pathfinders website. It's long - and it's bloody, but this is Memorial Day, so maybe you'll read it because Herndon Bivens deserves to be remembered on this of all days. He was 28 years old. The Wall site shows he has been "officially"listed as missing in action since 1979, but like many things about Vietnam, the dates are not always consistent - the article lists 1970. Still, whatever the specific date - his body was never recovered.

I continued to miss having a bracelet, and in the mid-1990s I got another POW-MIA bracelet - I just found that my left wrist was too empty without it. The husband of a friend of a friend belonged to a veteran's organization, and he got me another bracelet because VIVA had long since disbanded.

The bracelet I wear now says CPL Dennis M. Rattin. He was an Illinois boy and was lost in a helicopter incident over Laos in October of 1969. He was a technical observer on a night reconnaissance flight. The helicopter went down and neither Rattin nor the pilot was ever found. Here is another account - again bits vary, but the story is essentially the same. He was 19 years old. Dennis Rattin was never accounted for and is still listed as mission in action.

I've not been back to The Wall in D.C. to find his name, but I found it on the Illinois Wall at Wabash Plaza along the Chicago River. It's right downtown, on the Riverwalk at Wabash Avenue.

Interestingly, both men were promoted to Staff Sergeant at some point after they were reported missing.

About that bracelet - the two questions I get the most are, "what is that?" and "why are you wearing it?" You know now what it is. As for why I wear it? Because the phrase "lest we forget" is powerful. Don't forget. Too many people gave their lives for their county in a war that few supported. I protested it at a pretty young age (I was raised to be politically aware). And here we are, 30-odd years later, once again in a war that few support.

Whether or not you agree with me politically is of no significance here - what matters is that Herndon Bivens and Dennis Rattin gave their lives for their country - they deserve to be remembered and honored. And so I do . . . lest we forget.

10 comments:

Kristi said...

Hi A, Your post brings back such memories. I too had the POW-MIA bracelet with the Lt Charles Capelli. Years later my son and I found his name on the Wall in Washington DC and traced it on paper. It was very moving and emotional to share something from my high school days with my son at this Memorial Wall when he was in 5th grade. Thanks for the memories. Kristi (queenbee1958)

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Thank-you for that post; it is very meaningful and potent.

Anonymous said...

Hi im a cussion of Dennis and i was wondering if u had any more information on him im doing a report on the most influential in my life and i picked him any info will be greatly apreseated.

Anonymous said...

I also had a pow bracelet with Herndon Bivens. I am now almost 52 years old and am surprised he really was not that much older than me. I wish I still had the bracelet.
Carolyn
California

A :-) said...

I am honored that people continue to find this post and comment on it years after I initially wrote it.

I have no other information on Dennis Rattin, and I am cheered to know that someone besides me wore Herndon Bivens' bracelet for so many years.

Thank you for posting.

Anonymous said...

I too have a POW bracelet for Herndon Bivens...I found your website by doing a Google search on his name. I had so hoped he'd been found & brought home alive. Bless his soul, this past New Year's Day would have been his 60th birthday.

After years of wondering what I had done with his bracelet, I found it today in a box of jewelry treasures I had stored away. Sgt Bivens' POW bracelet carries much meaning then & now for me. Thanks for providing an opportunity to share.

Linda in St Louis

A :-) said...

Linda - thank you for posting. How wonderful that you found Herndon Bivens' bracelet again. I hope you put it right on your wrist.

Dorothy said...

I also wore the bracelet with Herndon Biven's name inscribed. I found his name on the memorial in Washington, DC. However, I never had the courage to look up other information about him...until today. Pictures of him show a man with a kind smile. He looks so strong and unfazed, even though he was only 19. I still have his bracelet, and I'll wear it this Memorial Day. I also protested the war, but have so much more appreciation for the profound sacrifice he made.

Dorothy said...

I also wore the bracelet with Herndon Biven's name inscribed. I found his name on the memorial in Washington, DC. However, I never had the courage to look up other information about him...until today. Pictures of him show a man with a kind smile. He looks so strong and unfazed, even though he was only 19. I still have his bracelet, and I'll wear it this Memorial Day. I also protested the war, but have so much more appreciation for the profound sacrifice he made.

A :-) said...

Thank you Dorothy.