For decades, she kept a bracelet with the name of an MIA soldier. She finally found out what happened to him.
Posted in , Mar 24, 2020
I stepped back from the wall to admire my new shadow box. I’d just had it framed. The piece fit perfectly into an empty space on my dining room wall. Inside the box was a doll my soldier brother John had sent me in Georgia from Vietnam back in 1966. Every time I moved, the doll moved with me, but I never seemed to find the right place to put her. She usually wound up tucked away in a drawer somewhere. Now, 45 years after receiving her, I’d finally found a great way to display her.
I had kept that doll with me for so long as a reminder of my gratitude that John was able to return home safe—and a memorial to those who weren’t. You see, the shadow box also contained a second memento of Vietnam. A metal bracelet, wrapped around the doll’s waist, was engraved with the name of a soldier and the date he went missing in action: Robert Dyczkowski, April 24, 1966.
Bracelets like these were popular during the war. They were part of a national program. For a small donation, you received the name of a soldier who was either being held prisoner or missing in action. The names were selected and sent at random. When the soldier came home or his death was confirmed, you received a notice. Only then were you supposed to take it off.
I never received a notice for Robert Dyczkowski. I wore my bracelet for years. I finally took it off when I was wheeled into the delivery room to give birth to my daughter—and only because the doctor insisted.
After that, I stopped wearing the bracelet but kept it with me, even after the war ended. I fastened it around the doll’s waist to make sure it didn’t get misplaced. Though we’d never met, I felt connected to Robert, responsible for honoring his memory. I wondered—did Robert have people who missed him? Family out there who had lost their son, husband or brother, anxious to learn what had happened to him? If it had been John who didn’t come back, it would’ve been comforting to think that perhaps there was one more person out there still thinking of him. Once the internet became available, I made attempts to search for Robert online, looked for his name on the wall in Washington, D.C. But I never found any answers.
My housekeeper knocked at the door, startling me from my thoughts. I left the dining room to let her in. “Hi, Violet!” I said. “How’s your family?”
“Everyone’s well,” she said. “My mother says it’s been raining a lot back in Poland.” Violet and her husband had both emigrated from there.
I soon left her to go get ready for work. I was reaching for my jacket when I heard Violet urgently call from another room.
I found her in the dining room. “What is it? Did something fall?”
“No,” Violet said. “How long has that been there?” She pointed to the shadow box on the wall.
“Oh, that,” I said, relieved. “I just put it up this morning. The doll is from Vietnam. My brother sent her to me way back when he served during the war there. Isn’t she pretty?”
Violet shook her head. “Not the doll—the bracelet!” She said. “Where did you get it? It has a name on it.…”
Of course! Violet was only in her twenties and from another country. She would know nothing about POW bracelets. I explained the program to her and why I’d framed mine with the doll.
“I still kind of think of him as my soldier,” I said. “But they were never able to find him.”
Violet’s eyes grew wide. “They did find him,” she said. “I should know—Robert Dyczkowski is my husband’s great-uncle!”
I listened in shock as Violet told me, at long last, the fate of Robert Dyczkowski.
“They found the wreckage of his plane in the late 1990s,” she said, “and were able to identify his remains. He’s buried in Arlington Cemetery. He was even promoted posthumously to colonel.”
I looked back at the name on my bracelet, the metal now dull with age. The name of a soldier from upstate New York, sent to a young woman in Georgia, who grew up, moved many times and met a girl from Poland, who turned out to know of him.
A name sent to me at random…or was it?
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