Tuesday, November 11, 2008
A POW bracelet and my promise
I've had my POW bracelet since the seventh grade when my socially conscious history teacher told us about them. We vowed to wear ours until the day we saw them get off the plane in the U. S. Then when the soldier returned home, we'd break it into two pieces and send it to him. My friends soldiers returned, but mine never did.
I watched each plane, I looked for his name and he never appeared. I thought I'd missed him, it never occurred to a young teen that he might never come back. I kept wearing the bracelet sure I'd eventually see him:
Maj Ralph C. Balcom
I never knew more about him than his name but I thought about him often. Wondering who he was, where he was from. I eventually stopped wearing the bracelet in college, sure Major Balcom was home and I had just missed him.
In the early '90's, the traveling Viet Nam Veteran's Memorial stopped in my city. I took the bracelet ready to return it. I didn't think I'd see his name.
But there it was and he was MIA.
I found out he was from the Pacific Northwest. I imagined his family waiting all these years too. Little ones not knowing their father. Parents not knowing what happened to their son.
I know some have returned their bracelets, left them at the wall. But I didn't. At 13, I vowed to keep it until he returned home. He still hasn't. So I'll keep the bracelet. I see you can have a new one made with his name on it - but I have the original from the 1970's.
Researching this blog post, I found out more information and a picture.
I never met Major Balcom, I never knew his family yet as a 13 year old, I vowed to remember him and wait for his return home. No one knows I keep this promise yet I do. I can't leave my bracelet at the wall, it feels like abdicating my responsibility. It may never end up there - because the promise is with me.
I promise to remember Major Ralph Balcom who has yet to return home from Viet Nam. Major Balcom continues to be MIA in Viet Nam when his plane disappeared.
Task Forge Omega has this information on Major Balcom:
BALCOM, RALPH CAROL JR
Name: Ralph Carol Balcom, Jr.
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 24 December 1933
Home City of Record: Seattle WA
Date of Loss: 15 May 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam (see text)
Loss Coordinates: 171200N 1064000E (XE100100)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: None Missing
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1991 from one or more of
the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W.
REMARKS: NEG SAR CONT
SYNOPSIS: Ralph Balcom Jr. was shot down over North Vietnam about 20 miles
north of the Demilitarized Zone in Quang Binh Province. A radio signal
indicated that Major Balcom had parachuted to the ground, but because of
zero visibility at the time, search planes were not able to locate and
Two months later a propaganda film appeared with a man Ralph's parents
immediately recognized as their son being paraded down the streets of Hanoi.
The U.S. Government later identified the man as a returned POW Kyle Berg,
also from the state of Washington.
In November 1973, the Air Force discovered that Joint Casualty Resolution
Center (JCRC) in Nakhon Phanom was carrying Balcom as a Prisoner of War
while Defense Intelligence Agency carried him as Missing In Action. The Air
Force directed JCRC to delete any reference pertaining to POW status in
Balcom's files. Balcom's status was changed from Prisoner of War to Missing
in Action, although analysts say today that JCRC records were the most
accurate and complete because of their close proximity to the region.
JCRC also lists Balcom as being lost in Laos, not North Vietnam. The loss
coordinates, 171200N 1064000E are in North Vietnam about 20 miles north of
the DMZ. Grid coordinates XE100100 are located a few miles northwest of the
Ban Karai Pass in Laos. It cannot be determined why there is a descrepancy
in loss locations between agencies.
Today, over 20 years have passed since Ralph Balcom's last flight over
Vietnam. His family is still not sure whether he is alive or dead. Over
10,000 reports of Americans still held captive have been received by the
U.S. Balcom could be one of the hundreds experts believe are still alive.
Isn't it time we brought these men home?
Ralph C. Balcom was promoted to the rank of Colonel during the period he was
maintained a Prisoner of War and Missing in Action.