By Matt Schepeler
During the Vietnam War, Phyllis Miller of Wauseon, Ohio, regularly wore an inexpensive silver bracelet she got through a veteran’s organization. She did not wear the bracelet as bling or to draw attention to herself, but as a reminder of someone who was suffering for the cause of freedom half a world away.
Inscribed on the bracelet was the name of Major Glendon Perkins, an electronics warfare officer in the USAF, along with the date July 20, 1966, which is the day the Douglas Sky Warrior (then captain) Perkins was riding in was shot down over North Vietnam.
“If my memory serves me correctly we gave about $2 for the materials to make the bracelet. Everybody in our town wore them,” said Miller.
The family felt it was their patriotic duty to support the troops in Vietnam, which was not a universal sentiment in the 1960s and 1970s. During the war, she and her husband, John, watched as two of their own boys, Ronald and Michael, went off to fight in Southeast Asia, so they had a vested interest in the war.
“We wore the bracelets until the war was over, because we wanted to find the people whose names were on them,” said Phyllis.
Altogether three of the Miller family members wore bracelets representing different troops who had gone missing in action. One of the bracelets broke, one was lost, but Phyllis hung on to hers.
“I watched carefully when they brought the prisoners of war back when Nixon was president. I watched [on television] and listened for the name that was on my bracelet, but it never came up,” she said.
“So, after the war I put it away in a little box. It has been in a drawer all these years.”
She moved on, not knowing whether the airman she had been praying for so long was dead or alive, and in the meantime, life happened. Her children all grew up and had their own children. Over time her husband, John, died as did one of her sons, and Phyllis, now 94, moved from Ohio to the Brooklyn Living Center in Michigan to be closer to her daughters.
The bracelet and the era it represented faded from memory, but not completely. Recently Phyllis, who has become an avid Facebook user, noticed that someone put up a “Do you remember these” post about the bracelets.
“I said ‘I still have one.’”
She fished the bracelet out of the drawer and the search for Maj. Perkins was renewed, this time using the power of the internet.
With the help of her family, Phyllis learned that her prayers had been answered. After bailing from a flaming airplane over North Vietnam and being held captive for 2,399 days, Maj. Glendon Perkins had made it home to his family.
Altogether there were six personnel in the aircraft shot down that day, and Lawrence Barbay, Norman A. McDaniel, Edwin L. Hubbard, William H. Means and Perkins all were captured and released six and a half years later. Craig R. Nobert, who was also on the flight, is still listed as missing and assumed dead.
Perkins’ experience in captivity can only be described as horrific.
“I’ll never forget what they did,” said Perkins, who was promoted while in captivity. “But I don’t want to be filled with hate and bitterness or anything like that. I would be a burden to my family. I look at it as an experience. It was six and a half years in a lifetime. That’s not really that long. The wounds have healed leaving the scars, yet the mental humiliation and physical abuses were hard to submerge.”
“We weren’t treated like prisoners of war, we were treated like criminals,” he said. But while she was relieved to learn that Perkins was alive and well, Phyllis still wanted a sense of closure. She decided to contact Perkins.
“My great-grandson Nathan Lewis went on the Internet and he was able to get ahold of Perkins’ daughter,” said Phyllis. “He showed [a picture of the bracelet] on Facebook and it wasn’t long before they called me,” she said.
Maj. Glendon Perkins and Phyllis Miller finally connected in a telephone conversation last week. She learned that he had come home on a different plane from the one shown on television. He had spent most of 1966 through 1972 in captivity. And, he very much appreciated her prayers. “He kept saying over and over, ‘Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your prayers,’” said Phyllis.
So, what did she think when she finally got a chance to talk to the man she had spent all those years praying over?
“I cried,” she said quietly.
She also noted that she intends to mail the bracelet to him. “What an honor it is to return it to its rightful owner. This is priceless,” she said, looking down at the bracelet.
“This is priceless.”
Editor’s note: POW bracelets were first created in May 1970 by a California student group called Voices in Vital America, with the intention that American Prisoners of War in Vietnam not be forgotten. Between 1970 and 1976, approximately five million bracelets were distributed.