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Bracelets and battlefields: a lasting bond

Posted on Thursday, April 13, 2017 at 12:22 pm

The present decade is the 1970s, an 18-years-old Diane Boone is at the Bank of Virginia located in the Southside Plaza in Richmond, Virginia.  At the bank, Boone comes across a shiny nickel bracelet.  Engraved on this bracelet in all black capital font is the following, “LCDR HUGH A. STAFFORD USN 30 AUG 67.”  With thoughts of her brother who was serving in the Vietnam War, young Diane purchases the bracelet for under $5.  Diane had no idea the history of this man’s name she gazed upon as it snuggly cuffed her wrist, she had no clue of the anguish that this man was enduring for his country.  It would not be until 47 years later that Diane Boone would fully grasp the hero that she held onto.

“Different places were selling them.  Banks.  I know I bought mine at Southside Plaza in Richmond at Bank of Virginia.  I wore it for many years, and then the war ended and I just put it away,” Boone expressed.

Although this bracelet found refuge in a jewelry box, the story behind the man’s name that was written on it was one of being imprisoned and finding refuge took a whole new meaning.

“I would look at it and wonder about him.  I wondered what he looked like,” Boone explained.

On Aug. 31, 1967, Lieutenant Commander Hugh A. Stafford and other pilots were shot down from the Haiphong skies in North Vietnam.  Stafford and his wingman, LTJG David J. Carey ejected from their damaged planes and headed straight for the ground.  Stafford landed in a tree while Carey landed in a small village.  Both men were captured and held in P.O.W. camps.  Both gentlemen belonged to the Squadron 163, USS Oriskany of the United States Navy.

“This is the camp where they do the brainwashing, he thought.  The one where they play with your mind…He could not think of anything except water.  He got down off the stool, onto his knees, and licked the floor where the tiles joined, hoping that some water had accumulated there.  When that failed, he tried licking damaged places on the wall, hoping that some water had sweated through…He was nothing but the thirst, and dying would end it,” recalls an excerpt from Geoffrey Norman’s Bouncing Back.  The book describes the heroic survival of Stafford and other POWs that survived Vietnam.

In the above excerpt, Stafford had gone without water for four days.  This was the type of heroic fight he endured for six years.  Stafford was released on March 14, 1973 in Operation Homecoming.

“When I started reading that book, and now that I have a picture.  I’m only on page 37, it’s very difficult for me to go any further.  I’ll just start crying,” Boone expressed.

As Boone wore this bracelet that had Stafford’s name brazen upon it little did she know the hell that Stafford was enduring in Vietnam.  “I did not know that I had the bracelet of someone who really sacrificed a lot.  I had no idea,” Boone stated.

“Faith in God and in my country were the things that sustained me.  Also the fine group of men who were my fellow POWs were of such consistently high caliber that one could never lose faith,” Stafford was quoted as saying on the P.O.W. Network website.

The P.O.W. Network offers a place where people can learn how to return a bracelet and learn more about the individual on the bracelet.  It also offers an address where bracelet holders can correspond with in hopes of hearing back from the former prisoner of war or family members of that former prisoner of war.

From this website, Boone discovered who Lieutenant Commander Hugh Allen Stafford was and learned of his death in Dec. 28, 2003.  She too learned of his wife, Sheryl and hoped that she would respond back from the P.O.W. Network correspondence.

“I just Googled POW bracelets and that’s where I came up with this.  I looked and it said would you like to return it.  The way that you return it is that you send the letter to the people and they will forward it to the family.  If the family wants to respond to you they will.  So, probably a month or two went by.  I sort of had forgotten it, and then I get this.  This is the response I got back from her,” Boone explained.

Over the past couple of months, Boone and Sheryl Stafford have been writing to each other about her husband and Boone’s plans to return her bracelet to her.  Stafford has even sent a copy of Norman’s Bouncing Back to her as well.

“Please feel free to share information about Al’s bracelet.  I’m certain there are other POW families who would greatly appreciate receiving their loved one’s bracelets.  These remarkable patriots may die but they are never forgotten by those who were fortunate enough to know them,” Stafford wrote to Boone in a letter.

“It is always a joy to our family when Al’s patriotism and service to his country are recognized.  He was a remarkable man and considered it a privilege to be a Navy pilot,” Stafford expressed in her correspondence to Boone.

Boone has held onto this treasure for 47 years, but is ready to return it to its rightful place.

“I’m ready to return the bracelet to her and it’s something that other people can do as well.  I can’t think of a better place than back to the family,” Boone expressed.