After all those years, she wondered if her girlhood prayers had helped

My Promise Bracelet

by Lisa Estes Ford
Northport, Alabama

My five-year-old son, Forrest, and I were sorting through my jewelry box. I was looking for items to give to the thrift store; Forrest was pretending to search for pirate treasure. “What’s this?” he asked as he held out a silver band.
    “That’s my prisoner of war bracelet,” I said. “Everybody wore those back when I was a kid.”
    My fingers traced the engraved letters: Capt. Byron Fuller. 7-14-67. How many times had I studied that date and wondered if Captain Fuller would ever make it home?
    I thought back to an afternoon when I was 10, meeting my mother at her car as she returned from work. “I bought you something,” she said, handing me a small plastic bag she had pulled from her purse. “There’s a POW bracelet inside,” she explained. “People are wearing them in honor of our soldiers imprisoned in Vietnam. They’re keeping them on until the soldiers come home.”
    I read his name for the first time. And that day I made a vow not to take my bracelet off until Captain Fuller was back in the United States.
    What did I know of war? My perceptions came from listening to grown-ups talk and watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news. What did I understand about the POWs? Enough to know that Captain Fuller needed to be released.
    I wore my bracelet everywhere. I didn’t even take it off when I showered or slept. Time and again I looked at the date and counted the months, days and years my captain had been a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. “Dear God,” I prayed every night, “bring him home.”
    Some of my friends swapped bracelets. Not me. Captain Fuller was my personal responsibility. In my mind I pictured him looking like the professor on Gilligan’s Island. Tall and thin with wavy hair. Every time I twirled the band around my wrist, I closed my eyes and I could almost see him stepping off a plane onto American soil.
    In February 1973 President Nixon announced that our prisoners of war would finally be coming home. Our fifth-grade class watched the planes land on TV and saw the prisoners’ tearful reunions with their families. But as carefully as I listened, I never heard the words I had been waiting for: “Captain Byron Fuller—released.” The next day when I combed the newspaper I couldn’t find his name on any list.
    I couldn’t find it as the weeks passed and articles about POWs began to disappear from the news. Almost everyone had taken off their metal bracelets. Finally I removed mine. I put it in my jewelry box, feeling empty and sad. Had my prayers made any difference?
    Now, almost 25 years later, Forrest cried, “Let’s find him!”
    “I wouldn’t know where to begin,” I said. “All I have is a name and date of capture.”
    “Can’t we try?” he asked eagerly.
    “We’ll see,” I said, not quite sure why I was hesitating. Maybe I felt a little guilty about having taken off the bracelet, or maybe I was afraid of what I might discover. But in the end, I decided I owed it to Captain Fuller and myself to try.
    I began by calling the local offices of each branch of the armed forces: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines. Without a date of birth or a Social Security number, they said, it would be impossible to locate him.
    “What about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial?” my husband, Wayne, suggested. I hope he’s not there, I thought. I wanted Captain Fuller to be alive and well, protected by my prayers.
    I called the local library and got the number for a nearby university library, where I was referred to someone else, until finally I found myself talking to a man at a library in Washington, D.C. “I can get a list for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” he said, “but in the meantime let me call a friend of mine at the Veteran’s Administration. He might know how to locate Captain Fuller.”
    Less than five minutes later the phone rang. “Mrs. Ford?” It was the man from D.C. “You know that friend I told you about in the Veteran’s Administration?” he said. “He was Captain Fuller’s cellmate in Vietnam. He gave me Fuller’s phone number here in the States.”
    It had all happened so fast I couldn’t believe it. But now that I had the phone number I hesitated again. What would Captain Fuller think about hearing from a woman who had worn his name on her wrist when she was 10 years old? Would it seem meaningless after all that time?
    Shortly before Memorial Day I finally got up the nerve to call. After getting Captain Fuller on the line, I stumbled over who I was and why I was calling. Immediately he put me at ease. He talked of the war, his capture and his dedication to the service. We discussed our families, interests and careers. I discovered that my captain had retired as a rear admiral in the Navy. At the close of our conversation, I confided, “I just wanted you to know I said many prayers for you.”
    “I do know, Lisa,” he said. “I felt a lot of people praying for me.”
    I was quite moved when I put down the phone. The commitment I had made as a girl had meant something. After all those years, it was good to know.

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