Is There Life After Retirement?

Memories That Come More Often Than Once a Year

Posted on: May 30, 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.” 

12 Responses to "Memories That Come More Often Than Once a Year"

Jim lived across the street from me when we were kids. He was 4 years older than I, and I had a terrible crush on him.

Jim was a graduate of the Naval Academy, and went on to become a pilot. He loved what he was doing. The mission in which he was shot down was his first.

About 20 years ago, a bone was found by a farmer, who felt that it was important and turned it over to the authorities. It was DNA tested against that of his sister and mother, but the results were inconclusive. Last fall, it was tested again and was absolutely identified as the bone of Edward James Broms. He has returned home. I know this because his sister called me yesterday and told me that he will be buried next month.

I cannot begin to express the effect this information had on me. Thank you so much for finding my blog, for finalizing this 40 year journey. Thank you.

Marti, what an amazing story, it certainly is true what we put out comes back in full force! Kim

Wow!! A beautifully written piece and an breathtaking response. Thanks so much for this, Marti!

Sally tipped me off that there had been a new development to your sweet and strange story of honoring. I’m left with the feeling that this is a love story of the deep soul love we all share, the glue of oneness, not “romantic” love. Time melts for love and love always finds a way. Thank you for your loving service, E. James Broms and thank you for sharing, Marti!

Mahalo for your lovely words…

To add to the information already here, my husband and I had the honor of attending the burial service for LCDR E. J. Broms this past weekend, September 7, 2012, at Arlington Cemetery. At his sister’s request, I photographed the service. A few may be found here:

Kathy, thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much this means to me.

I remember those bracelets well, and your post on FB todat certainly touched my heart in a way that I can’t quite describe. GA and I talked yesterday about having a daughter and not a son, and how lucky we felt that as parents we never got that knock on our door. Thanks for sharing, I believe that I will carry a small piece of LCDR E.J. Broms with me for a while too.

Hal, thank you SO MUCH for your comments – both here and on FB. It means a lot to me.

Once again, Marti, you blow me away with writing from the heart. Cheers, LTJG E. James Brom! Many of us will never forget your ultimate sacrifice. Most of us enjoy the freedom that you did your absolute best to ensure. Thanks, Marti.

So back in 9th grade when we were getting in trouble in math class, did we have any idea we’d both turn out to be writers? Wait. Trouble … Math … hmmm … now it all makes sense.

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  • Joyce Burke: This was great too read
  • Debbie: I'm with miracarroll--it's your story, so create however you want. Leave the rest of us wondering which of the (mis)adventures are real, which might b
  • miracarroll: Marti, surely the people in your life are wise enough to know (especially after you say it) that you're a writer and in fiction, everything is fair ga
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