Editor’s note: Liz Anderson still sometimes wears the POW bracelet, especially around Memorial Day, when America honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. “I wear it a couple of times a month. It’s always on my dresser,” says the 59-year-old retired Jefferson Parish educational administrator who now works at the Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce. Here is Anderson’s story of that bracelet, its paint long gone but its memories as vivid as ever.
I never met him. I never even knew where he was from or how old he was, but over 40 years ago his name was etched into a metal bracelet and forever into my memory and heart.
I was 16 years old when I bought the POW/MIA bracelet in support of our troops. “Sgt. Earl E. Shark, Vietnam Prisoner of War-Missing in Action 9/12/68,” it read.
I was an idealist and totally naïve. I was an innocent, and I was against the war as many in my generation. But I supported Sgt. Shark and the men and women who were serving in Vietnam. Shark was proud to be a U.S. soldier. He had a mission and he was willing to stand up for his convictions. I was sure he was also a young idealist, just like me.
For three years I wore my POW/MIA bracelet, not even removing it from my wrist when I donned my gown for senior prom. I would see Shark’s name on my arm and wonder what he was experiencing, if he had a decent meal or a place to lay his head. I wondered if he was still alive. I’d wonder if I’d ever find out the truth.
On Jan. 27, 1973, when I was a freshman at LSU, President Nixon announced the beginning of the cease-fire, and that the U.S. Prisoners of War would be released. That day I removed the bracelet that had become a part of me. Still, I wondered what had happened to Sgt. Shark, my own personal Vietnam War hero.
Would he be one of the prisoners to be released? Was he maimed?
Was he dead? Was taking off the bracelet an act of faith or was I giving up on my hero?
In 2003, I took my POW/MIA bracelet out of my memory box and visited the traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall with my own teenaged daughter.
We found Sgt. Shark’s name on panel 44W, line 041, and I cried. I cried because he never got to come home and that his family would never experience the joy of his return. I cried knowing he may have suffered terrible torture. I cried because now after 30 years, I knew what really happened. He died. He was killed. He gave his life for his convictions, his country and our freedom.
Now the United States is involved in another conflict. Military men and women are being sent to the Middle East, fighting for their belief in freedom for all. Some of them will die. Some of them may become POWs or MIAs. I am an idealist.
I am an innocent in the game of war, and I am not in favor of sending troops to a faraway country and a war that we may never win, but I support our troops.
I know Sgt. Shark would tell them, “Give them hell!” and I’d smile at his fierce determination. But as Plato once so eloquently said, “Only the dead see the end of war.”