Hap Alexander column: POW/MIA bracelet finally goes home
Second in a two-part series
Last December, while on one of my checks of the Internet, I discovered that Maj. Paul Getchell’s jet crash site had been discovered and excavated, and that his remains had been located, identified and buried in Arlington National Cemetery. You can’t imagine how excited I was at the news ó just thinking that his family now had closure, finally. I carefully and tearfully removed the POW/MIA bracelet bearing his name that I had worn for all of those years, and slipped it into an envelope with the following letter to his widow:
December 19, 2008
Dear Mrs. Getchell,
I am writing to share with you my story surrounding the enclosed POW/MIA bracelet and how profoundly my life has been impacted by your husband, Maj. Paul Getchell. I have felt a connection to you through my prayers for him and peace for your family, and I want express my appreciation for Maj. Getchell’s service and sacrifice.
I acquired this bracelet in 1969 when I was a freshman at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., and have worn it ever since as a reminder to myself and to others that we will never forget those lost or missing in Vietnam. Through the years I have followed the efforts to give closure to the families of our missing servicemen, especially Maj. Getchell. Yesterday I learned that he had been found and has been buried in Arlington, Va.
It has been my hope all of these years to contact your family once Maj. Getchell was located, so I called the office of the city manager in Portland for help finding you. The city manager’s administrative assistant, Sonia, gave me a phone number to reach your son, Greg, who gave me your address.
I have been writing this letter to you for many years worried that I may not have an opportunity to send it. I’m 59 years old, and I have worn this bracelet for nearly 40 years. You can’t imagine the numerous opportunities it has created for me to talk to young people about the war in Vietnam and our POW/MIA’s left behind. I have three grown sons, a stepdaughter and two granddaughters, and I don’t want their generations to go without knowing the sacrifices made by so many for the lives they enjoy.
Sometimes, just out of the blue, a young person in their late teens or early 20s will look at my bracelet and ask, “What’s that for?” I tell them about Maj. Paul Getchell and all the others and about the families not knowing and about the war in Vietnam and about how we will never forget. They listen as I tell them how much we should appreciate everything that has been done for us, and I truly believe they hear me and go away with a new understanding.
I am sending Maj. Getchell’s bracelet to you, so you can see it and touch it, with my hopes that you can sense the love and affection that I have for our country and for those who have given so much, and I also hope that you can sense the connection that I feel between us. It is yours to keep, but if you want me to wear it for a while longer, I’ll be honored to continue to use it as reminder to myself and to others that we will never forget the sacrifices of so many. If you return the bracelet, with your blessing, I will wear it for the rest of my life for you. If you keep it, I’ll be happy to know that Maj. Paul Getchell’s family has it and knows where this bracelet has been for all of these years and the eyes that have been opened by it.
It is, as it has always been, my hope for peace for you and your family. May you always know that I will never forget Maj. Paul Getchell. God’s peace be with you.
Sincerely, Hap Alexander
Topsail Beach, N.C.
WO1 Frederick Lewis Christman 3-19-71 … You are not forgotten, and neither are the other 1,736 Americans who served in Vietnam who remain unaccounted for.
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Hap Alexander, a former resident of Salisbury, lives in Topsail Beach.