So This Thing Happened …

Archive for May 2011

“Hey, did you guys see this thing for POW bracelets?” Cathy came bounding into 14D with a mail order flyer. “We should order some.”

It was November of 1972 and I was a college freshman at an expensive but academically mediocre all-girl junior college in Miami, Florida. I took the paper from her and began to read aloud. “Over a thousand American soldiers have been held as Prisoners of War in North Vietnam. Our goal is to make sure this stays in our awareness until each soldier is returned to us. Please order a POW/MIA bracelet and pledge to wear it until your soldier comes home.” I checked the cost – only $2.50 for the standard bracelet and $3.50 for the copper one – which, even by 1972 standards, was really cheap. The idea appealed to me instantly. “Yeah, let’s do it!”

So on that day, several young women from Bauder Fashion College marched up Flagler Street to the post office, got our money orders for $2.50 each, slapped our 8 cent postage stamps on the envelopes and ordered our bracelets from the address on the somewhat amateurish but passionately produced flyer.

Several weeks passed before I received the small lumpy manila envelop in the mail. In it was a bumper sticker : POW/MIA: I WANT THEM ACCOUNTED FOR!, a multi folded sheet of white paper with program information, and a silver plated cuff type bangle bracelet with an engraved rank, name and date. The point was to clamp the bracelet onto our wrists, and keep it there until the person whose name was on the bracelet came home. I studied the inscription:

LTJG E. James Broms
8 – 1 – 1968

Wow, my guy (as we thereafter referred to ‘our’ soldier) had been missing since I was in eighth grade and less than a month after Bobby Kennedy died. Bummer, I thought. My fantasy of celebrating his homecoming by triumphantly removing the bracelet lost a little steam. Nevertheless, a deal is a deal. “Okay, E. James, here we go.” I put the bracelet on my right wrist, squeezing the ends together.

And there he stayed. I only took it off once – to emcee a beauty pageant- because the designer thought it “ruined the lines of my silhouette.” All evening James flashed into my mind and I vowed to never take it off again. And I didn’t. Through my college years…through graduation…through my return to Ohio and job interviews, job placement and through my wild and crazy early 20s social life. Day or night, professional or partying…when I slept, showered or even while “doing the deed” the bracelet never left my arm. Until one night in 1977…

I was in a Columbus area night club with friends. A man with whom I had an intense to-the-depths-of-our-souls type of relationship, and hadn’t seen in months, walked into the club. I saw him, gasped and the bracelet broke off my arm into two pieces. No kidding; it really happened just like that. I placed both pieces in a secure pocket in my purse and turned my attention to the situation at hand. The next morning I was scheduled to make a quick visit to the warehouse of the clothing chain for which I worked and while I was counting Jones of New York jackets, someone slipped into the break room through an open window and stole my handbag. Money, license, keys – replacing all that was inconvenient, but what could never be replaced was E. James Broms.

I’ve often wondered about the cosmic implication of those events and the only thing I can come up with was that it’s not about a strip of metal and it’s sure as heck not about me. It’s about one soul honoring another. It’s about a man who put himself in harms way – either by choice or by draft – rolled the dice and lost.  Honoring such a person transcends politics or our opinions about war, specific or in general.  Could I have done what he did?  Nope. I simply do not have that type of mindset.  But I sure appreciate those who do.

The last contact anyone had with James was while he was piloting an A4C Skyhawk over the Gulf of Tonkin. He was flying the fourth position in a four plane airstrike, and his last transmission was “Puffs all around me.” That’s war, I suppose. He was 24 at the time.

In the mid 80s I was able to visit his name on a traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial. When I finally visited DC in 2004, I couldn’t wait to visit panel 50W of the memorial and etch/rub his name as a keepsake. Unfortunately, the wall was being renovated and I was unable to view that portion. “It’s not about a strip of metal, it’s not about me” echoed through my thoughts.

If James is still alive, he turned 68 earlier this month.  I know it isn’t likely.  But when my thoughts shuffle past the “stuff” of bracelets and walls and self congratulatory ego, I know what’s important. The spirit, the essence of who this young man was is definitely rattling around the cosmos somewhere. And to that spirit I say, “Mahalo, James. And Godspeed.”

LTJG E. James Broms MIA.8/1/1968

UPDATE: If you’re reading this for the first time, you MUST read the conversation that transpired because of this post.  Just click on “comments.” 

I’m pretty sure this is just going to be marginally edited, non-premeditated writing – the purpose of which isn’t so much to tell you my opinions than it is for me to figure out what they are.

When I saw that bin Laden had been killed, my first reaction was surprise. Followed by a sense of relief.  Followed by something a little more disturbing and confused.  Watching people celebrate didn’t feel quite right for some reason.  And it’s not that I’m sorry he’s dead – I’m not sorry at all.  His existence encouraged unbelievable pain and suffering in this world so goodbye already.    Then what was so unsettling?  I spent a few minutes trying to understand what wasn’t setting right with me.

From the perspective of tangible human drama, it was easy to see what was off for me – This is not 1945 and al-qaeda are not the Nazis.  They don’t march in goose stepping perfect rows, all regimented and proud.  They are intentionally opaquely ferreted away in oblique configurations we refer to as cells.  And now they have a martyr.  So now what?   Am I waiting for that other shoe to drop? Hmmm…so the biggest part of my confused reaction was fear.

Another part of my reaction springs from not being a particularly vengeful person.  I’ve never been an “eye for an eye” type, unless that second eye could actually give vision to the one who lost the first.  I’m more from the “the best revenge is a life well lived” ilk.     Watching the revelers – who certainly had a right to celebrate the elimination of a man who had wreaked such havoc on us – made me realize that celebrating the death of our enemies is a pretty close dance, y’know?

The undertone of my reaction was quite sombre,  probably brought on by wondering how those who were the most directly affected by 9/11 were feeling tonight and remembering the anger, hate and hurt that has grown since then – on all sides, directed towards so many.

Yet at the same time, I was deeply appreciative and respectful of the military elite that executed their mission with surgical precision and accuracy.  I truly wish we lived in a time where humanity had evolved beyond the need for wars, but clearly we haven’t.  So I understand the need for our military, I applaud you and thank you.  Honestly and truly.

And then there’s the writer in me … WHAT a story.  I mean, really.   I love examples of  tricky jobs done well and like so many others, am rabidly curious about the details.

Odd mix of emotions, for sure.  But about that uneasiness, where is it coming from?

I zeroed in on the ‘what happens next’ part.  If succumbing to worrying about the future or exacting further revenge are not the answers, then what is?

And that, I believe, is where it gets personal and your answer could be quite different from mine.   Here’s mine:

For the past few years I’ve been following a spiritual path that teaches (in highly simplified terms) that there are only two things: love and fear.  Love, in this context, comes from a higher, divine source and at least a glimmer of it – and often much more – can be found within all.  Fear is everything else.  No matter what thought, emotion or action I can imagine, I believe it springs from one of those two place.  So for me, what I now know – of which I was unclear when beginning this post – is that my job is to sidestep the fear, and focus on that glimmer of divine love – to believe it resides in all places, to believe only it is real, and to have the confidence in our collective ability to bring it forth.

Whew.  Glad I got that settled.

What’s your take on it all? What are your thoughts about how we can steer this crazy “the worlds are shifting” kind of time in the right direction?

Yes, those were the feelings and thoughts simmering and bubbling within me as I learned about the death of  Osama bin Laden…

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  • ronmitchelladventure: Truth be told, I wanted to ask, "Can we touch with anything we want?" Decided not to ask, as sometimes a sick sense of humor falls flat. Plus, I was c
  • martiwrites: On one hand, I actually facilitated those training classes for years. On the other hand, I'm a Serb living in the land of aloha. Double whammy and h
  • ronmitchelladventure: As a manager, I refrained from my cultural hug and kiss on the cheek greeting after attending sexual harassment training for managers. We learned that