Monday, March 15, 2010

Even at 15 Years Old I Knew Better

After publishing my post about the women fliers of World War II, I got an email from Paul's cousin Dale. This is part of Dale's email:

Great job on the lady pilots. I was one of those Vietnam guys and was ashamed to say much when I got home. How many times I was in a bar in Warren and guys would be talking trash about soldiers and I had to bite my tongue.

A young man who served his country and risked his life only to come back to his hometown to be made to feel like he had done something wrong. I remember those days and the pictures of soldiers being met at airports by protesters holding anti-war signs and booing those in uniform. Ducking their heads as they moved through, I'm sure many couldn't get that uniform off fast enough. Shame on America; shame on us for not showing these men and women the respect they deserved. As a country we can never make that up to them.

Dale's email goes on to tell of a recent trip to the Veterans' Association for some medical care. I love this story:

I'm sitting next to this little frail gent in a wheelchair. He had his arm in a sling, a brace on his leg and an attitude that just made me laugh. So there was about a dozen men and women in there and this guy comes in and starts mouthing off about being in Nam and how tough he was and on and on. I was about to tell him to give it a rest when he came out and said to the little guy, "Did you ever see any action or are you one of those vets never been out of the country?" He looked at the big mouth and said "I was a B17 pilot and on one of my missions was shot down over Germany and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp." Well the guy never said another word. I love it when that happens.

Wouldn't you love to have been a fly on that wall?

Dale's comment about being made to feel ashamed of his service in Vietnam brought me back to a time in the 1970's when I wore a POW/MIA Bracelet. Nearly five million bracelets were sold by Voices in Vital America (VIVA) to raise money to draw attention to the MIAs in Vietnam. The bracelets were engraved with the name of a captured or lost soldier and the date he disappeared.

In 1971 I sent $3 to VIVA for the bracelet shown below. It has the name of Lt. Col. James Kasler and 8/8/66, the day he was shot down. The white star meant he was a POW not missing in action.

So many times during the years I wore my bracelet I was verbally attacked by someone who pointed at my bracelet and told me I was "supporting the war." Honestly at that time I didn't understand much about the Vietnam war, but even at 15, I knew they were wrong and would respond, "I'm supporting him. He's doing his job, what his country asked him to do."

In 1973, lists of prisoners scheduled to be freed started appearing in the newspaper. On March 3, 1973, I came home to find a page from the paper left by my father draped over a chair by the door with Colonel Kasler's name circled in red. Still in a scrapbook, that article is show below.
(Click to enlarge)

I wore my bracelet until sometime in March 1973 when I watched Colonel Kasler walk off the plane that brought him and a group of former POWs home. He had been promoted to colonel during his captivity, and as the highest ranking officer on the plane, he spoke at the airport that day. As I sat in front of the television listening, I cermoniously removed my bracelet.

Somehow, long before the days of the Internet, I managed to find Colonel Kasler's address in Zanesville, Ohio, and wrote him a letter. I was 17 at the time and remember spending hours composing and typing that letter. I considered sending him my bracelet but knowing that there were many duplicate bracelets and assuming he'd get others, I decided it meant more to me to keep it than it would to him. In response to my letter I received this card and photo with his signature on the back:

I recently googled Colonel Kasler and found this:

Colonel James H. Kasler is to date the only person to be awarded the Air Force Cross three times.
The Air Force Cross ranks just below the Medal of Honor as an award for extraordinary heroism in combat. The Veterans Tribute organization ranks Colonel Kasler number 8 of the Top 50 Most Highly Decorated U.S. Military Personnel in American History.

A combat veteran of
World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, he flew a combined 198 combat missions and was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam
between August 1966 and March 1973.

Enlisting in the U. S. Army Air Forces toward the end of World War II, Kasler flew 7 missions.
During the Korean War he flew 100 combat missions.

On August 8, 1966, while flying an F-105D on his 91st combat mission over North Vietnam, Kasler was shot down by ground fire. He was captured, not to be released until 6 1/2 years later on March 4, 1973. During those 6 1/2 years he was subjected to torture almost daily.

On 15 Sept 2007 the United States Air Force dedicated a monument
to him. James Kasler retired from the United States Air Force as a Colonel and continues to live in Illinois.

This was the first time I was able to learn anything more about the man whose name I wore on my wrist for two years.
Whatever your feelings about war, nobody likes it, you have to admit this is a very impressive bio of a true American Patriot.


Pam said...

I was just a little girl during the Vietnam war, so I don't remember the soldiers coming home. But I do remember vividly Desert Storm and those yellow ribbons and how everyone was so adamant about showing their
support for the SOLDIERS (if not the war). So glad we've grown as a country. My heart aches for those Vietnam vets. We can never make it up to them. And every time a soldier returns now to great fanfare, it must hurt them all over again.

Michele said...

I too had a bracelet but mine did not have as happy an ending. I remember going to college with a Vietnam vet. I seemed to be the only one that he felt comfortable talking about his service with. I learned things about the war that would turn your hair white.

It was a difficult time for the soldiers, their families, and those of us that supported them but not the war. I never blamed the soldiers, they were just doing their duty and most were drafted so they wouldn't have been there if not forced. I blamed the Johnson and Nixon administrations.I still harbor some very strong feelings about those two scoundrels.

It is nice to see that Americans back home are not subjecting the soldiers of the Iraq war to the same abuse. I'd like to think that we have learned our lesson if the people in the government have not.

Anita said...

Sandy, this brought tears to my eyes. I was one of those kids who with my family heard the nightly news of casualties, captures of POWs and MIA soldiers. I believe I had a bracelet, but honestly I have no idea where it is now.
Your acts of kindness then and now are amazing. Thank you for sharing James Kasler and his story with us.

DUTA said...

This is a very interesting, moving, and patriotic post!

Unfortunately, there were liberal circles that did great damage to the morale of the soldiers, to the outcome of the war , and to the USA prestige in the world.

And again, unfortunately history repeats itself. There are people who don't understand that if american troops leave Irak and Afganistan without a clear-cut victory , then there will be lots of 9/11 events on american teritory and elsewhere.

New England Girl said...

Another incredible post. I don't even have words for it, really. I do, however, LOVE the story your husband's cousin recounted. Being a fly on the wall that day would have been priceless. It's always the ones with the big, loud bravado that pale in comparison to those who don't feel the need to throw their heroism, bravery and period of duty in everyone else's face. That B17 pilot has every right to proudly proclaim what he does, but his humility and grace is beautiful.

midwesttomidlands said...

What a well written and thought provoking story. I too had a POW bracelet but it got lost somewhere along the way. I'm sorry that it did, because how great that you wrote to yours and what a hero he was. It is just so humbling to think what so many have done for our country.

Elle said...

What an incredible post! You were very wise at 15. I have only read and heard about how Vietnam Vets were treated, and I think it's awful and shameful. We don't have to like or agree with the war, but we should do what we can to support all of our brave soldiers.

Anonymous said...

Very impressive indeed.

Great posts.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Nice post.

Housewife Savant said...

We should STILL be wearing bracelets in honor of such a great man.
This is a beautiful post!
You're awesome.

Mommakin said...

How well I remember that time. I also remember really envying the girls with bracelets - my mom didn't see the point and wouldn't let me get one. Picturing you ceremoniously removing yours brought tears to my eyes.

I wish we weren't in this war, but we are. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women who are fighting it. We have indeed come a long way.

Wonderful post, Sandy. Thanks.

Just Breathe said...

Sandy, thank you for sharing this story about the bracelet. How sad for him to be shot down and to have to spend 6 1/2 years being held. I love that you bought that bracelet and supported him. How wonderful that he came home. It was such a sad time for our soldiers not being appreciated. I like Dales email to you.

SparkleFarkle said...

I can't thank you enough for this incredible blog entry. I faithfully and hopefully wore Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness' bracelet (No. 101 in the newspaper listing.) and held a ceremony much like yours on the day of his return. I can't wait until my daughter Puppet gets home, so I can share your tribute with her. Thank you, again. This means so much.

Anonymous said...

Sandy, your compassion and insight continue to amaze me. I also had a bracelet when I was 15 (or 16) but have no idea what happened to it and certainly never tracked down the soldier it honored and, boy, do I feel inadequate now. This is a touching and timely story and a wonderful reminder to us all. Thanks for sharing. Janice

Ronda Laveen said...

I do remember those boys coming home and being treated as not a part of the rest of us. Even in college, they were separate for the most part. Truly shameful.

Thanks for visiting my blog today.

LadyFi said...

Although I am anti-war, I just can't imagine what it must have been like for all those soldiers fighting in wars...

Robin said...

What a beautiful and moving post, it brought tears to my eyes as well.

How good too that we have finally grown enough as a country to respect and honor the individual soldiers who risk everything in our name, whatever we may feel about the people who decided to put them there.

Thoughtfully blended hearts said...

Congrats on a wonderful post!!! I also had a bracelet and now I wonder what I did with it. I think that my name was one who died. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and your story points the truth of this. My hubby spent 25 yrs in the Navy mostly on submarines and I can't even imagine all of the incidents he was exposed to. Vietnam was an ugly period of time for our country and I am proud of the support that is shown to our military. It is so sad that our military families are paid so poorly that they have to be on food stamps---how can this be???

Christian Mommy Writer said... was so awful how we treated our soldiers. I'm a military spouse and I would be so upset if someone would act that way towards my husband. Thanks for posting this. :-)

MsBabyPlan said...

Hello Sis, I am stopping by from SITs! Hope your day is great!

lori said...

This was a beautiful post. I still get teary eyed when I see a fire engine with the American flag flying on the back of it. They were all over right after 9-11 but once in a while in our town I'll see a fire truck that still flies the flag. A reminder of great courage and great loss.

Jane In The Jungle said...

We really have seen a lot of change in attitude with the different wars in our lifetime haven't we....

midwesttomidlands said...

Hi Sandy, it's me again. Just to let you know I have a Happiness Award for you over at my blog. Please stop by and pick it up and share your happiness 10 list. cheers! jane

Denise said...

Thank you for writing this post Sandy. You must have been a very mature 15 year old to have been so wise and brave not to buckle under the pressure of the day. I try to thank every veteran I meet. My thanks sometimes brings tears to their eyes. The first time I saw an MIA bracelet was on the wrist of one of my husband's cousins. This was only a few years' ago. I asked her what it was and was very moved by what she told me. Only a few years ago the remains of her MIA was returned and reburied at Arlington.

A 2 Z said...

Hi Sandy,

Very emotional post. You are such a good writer. Its been a while since Canadians experienced any kind of war. It conjures so many debates. I tried to connect with you previously but my "follow" button does not include your pretty face. Some followers are disappearing... I'm finally back up on my feet and will be back soon. Take care.


Anonymous said...
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bettyl said...

That's an awesome post. Thanks for sharing.

HanShinta said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing! =) I have a friend whose fiance is serving in Iraq, & she is worried sick all the time. I can't even begin to imagine what she is feeling inside.

You are a very good writer! =) Stopping by from best posts of the week.

Smocha said...

Awesome post!

I remember being in the second grade and it seemed like every kid had one of those bracelets. My mom never got me one ,so I would make up names of soldiers and pray for them.

Can you imagine neraly 7 years as a POW. The human spiirt is truely an amazing thing.

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Wonderful post! I hated the Vietnam War, but I didn't blame it on the soldiers. On the other hand, I had no way to show support for them, either. Many or most of them came home individually. No parades, nobody organizing any kind of tribute, and nobody speaking out to say, "We need to show some support for these guys." They saw horrific things; I have a friend age 60-plus who is still messed up with PTSD. I am SO glad that we as Americans have changed our behavior in that regard.


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