After all those years, she wondered if her girlhood prayers had
by Lisa Estes Ford
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
“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
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
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.