The Vietnam War was the most unpopular war the United States ever engaged in at that time in history. The war brought out deserters who fled to Canada, protestors and even a celebrity branded as a traitor by many. The veterans suffering continued when they returned home as they were not welcomed back as heroes in most cases. However, some did much to raise the awareness of the suffering of the soldiers and their families.
The Idea for the MIA Bracelets
In the 1970s a student organization called Voices for Vital America (VIVA) produced and distributed POW/MIA bracelets during the Vietnam War. The chairman of the organization was Carol Bates Brown, but the idea behind the bracelets was a coordinated effort between Brown and Kay Hunter, a fellow college student.
Brown and Hunter, along with several other members of VIVA, were introduced to three wives of missing pilots in late 1969. The wives believed the organization could help bring public attention to soldiers who were missing in action (MIA) or prisoners of war. (POW). The first idea was to circulate petitions and letters to Hanoi which would demand humane treatment for the prisoners. The students wanted to be involved in positive supportive programs, but not become engaged in the controversy of the war itself.
At the time, Bob Dorman, who introduced the group to the pilots’ wives, wore a bracelet he had gotten from hill tribesmen in Vietnam. He said the bracelet reminded him of the suffering of the many who the war had touched. Brown and Hunter thought similar bracelets to remember the POWs and MIAs in Vietnam would be an excellent idea. They attempted to travel to Vietnam to procure bracelets, but for various reasons, the war being the main one, were unable to go there. They gave up and resorted to researching ways to make the bracelets.
Hunter soon left VIVA as her attention was drawn to other activities. However, Brown, Steve Frank, another student and their adult supervisor, Gloria Coppin continued to work on figuring out a way to produce the bracelets.
Production of the MIA Bracelets
VIVA did not have funds to make the bracelets, but Coppin found a shop in Santa Monica that engraved on Credit: photo by Cheryl Weldonsilver and agreed to make ten sample bracelets. The small group had to quickly decide what to engrave on the bracelets and thus the name, rank, and date of loss were assigned.
With the samples, the trio began the search for someone to donate money to make the bracelets for distribution to college students. They never thought adults would want to wear them as they were not particularly appealing to the eye. They approached Ross Perot and Howard Hughes, but while supportive of the efforts, neither would invest in the project. In the late summer of 1970, Coppin’s husband donated brass and copper to make 1,200 bracelets and the Santa Monica engraver agreed to engrave them for delayed payment from the possible profits. The bracelets would cost approximately 75 cents to produce, so the trio decided to charge $2.50 for the bracelets; the price of student admission to the movie theatre. The copper bracelets which would be promoted to adults were priced at three dollars; the group reasoning adults could afford the extra 50 cents.
Local relatives of MIA soldiers or POWs in Vietnam suggested the trio attend the National League of Families annual meeting in Washington D.C. There was much interest from the families in having their loved ones’ names on the bracelets. Dorman promoted the bracelets on his Los Angeles talk show. On November 11, 1970, Veteran’s Day, VIVA officially announced the bracelet program. The public response was overwhelming and requests soon grew to over 12,000 per day. VIVA formed an alliance with the relatives of the MIA men who got the bracelets on consignment and were able to keep some of the raised funds to aid their local organizations.
The MIA/POW Program is a Success
Frank and Brown both ended up dropping out of college to work full-time for VIVA to oversee the bracelet and other POW/MIA programs. Coppin was adamant VIVA would not have a highly paid professional staff and the organization was able to keep administrative costs to less than 20 percent of income.
VIVA distributed almost five million bracelets and was able to raise enough money to distribute millions of buttons, brochures, bumper stickers, and other avenues to make the public aware of the prisoners of war and men missing in action in Vietnam. As the war continued, the public interest waned and in 1976, VIVA closed down.
POW/MIA Bracelets in Current Years
In recent years, the interest of these bracelets has revived and people are asking wheCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldonre they can purchase one. The best way to receive a bracelet is to visit the website for the National League of Families of Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia (the League). At the bottom of the page are several links taking you to vendors the League recommends. The POW/MIA bracelet program is not an official government program and thus no data base exists. There is no central control or registry for the bracelets. This means there are likely numerous bracelets with the same name engraved.
For those who have bracelets and wonder about the status of the name on their bracelet contact the following:
Give them the information on the bracelet and ask for the status of the person. If wanting to contact the family of the person on the bracelet, contact the above and ask if the family can be contacted and if so, the address will be forwarded.
The POW/MIA bracelet program was a wonderful way to keep our missing or imprisoned soldiers in the public awareness. It was one positive response in the Vietnam War so unpopular with the majority of the American people. The Vietnam veteran can rest assured there were those who supported him in the unpopular war.
The copyright of the article “MIA Bracelets During the Vietnam War” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.