A POW bracelet (or POW/MIA bracelet) is a nickel-plated or copper commemorative bracelet engraved with the rank, name, and loss date of an American serviceman captured or missing during the Vietnam War. The bracelets were first created in May 1970 by a California student group called Voices in Vital America (VIVA), with the intention that American Prisoners Of War in Vietnam not be forgotten. Those who wore the bracelets vowed to leave them on until the soldier named on the bracelet, or their remains, were returned to America. Between 1970 and 1976, approximately 5 million bracelets were distributed.
As we approach Veterans Day in November, it is important that we remember and recognize the contributions of the men and women who served. Those who attend the WACD annual conference will get to hear directly from some veterans who have become a part of our larger conservation community as part of the Veterans Conservation Corps.
My father served in the Army in World War II. He didn’t talk much about that experience other than telling us he was always cold while stationed on Adak Island in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. Mom likes to recount a letter she received from him in which he said: having a great time, there are beautiful women behind every tree. (At that time, there weren’t any trees on Adak! Since then, some trees have been planted.)
We have many veterans in our ranks so I hope you will take time to honor them, but please be aware that not all veterans welcome that recognition. See: Some veterans do not wish to hear your thanks.
…some veterans say that hearing strangers tell them “thank you” can be awkward or downright painful.
I have several beaded bracelets, but the two I wear most often are shown here. They are inexpensive and simple, made of natural gemstones. I wear them for a couple of reasons.
First, as a geologist, I like to feel connected to the planet. Wearing bits of it on me is my way of affirming that important connection. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors: family camping and fishing, hiking the Olympics and Cascades, and later doing geological work in the western United States and in West Irian (aka Irian Jaya), Indonesia.
I like to name my vehicles, too, and one brown car I had while I was in Oregon was named Jory, after the state soil of Oregon. Such things help me remember how attached I am to our earthly foundations in this place we call home.
Second, my gemstone bracelets bring to mind how unique each of us is. Just like people, no two gemstones are exactly the same, even if they came from the same place. I enjoy the unique beauty of each individual gemstone bead. Collectively, they present an attractive whole, made up of uniquely beautiful individual bits. They remind me of the many different people I am blessed to work with.
Those two points — uniqueness and the whole — remind me to appreciate every person I have contact with, every day and in every way. Individually, we are unique and interesting people. Like precious gems, each of us formed in ways that were not quite the same as any other human. Together, we form a strong body of interest and commitment in conserving our renewable natural resources, embracing our differences as we simultaneously leverage our passion and skills in common purpose.
If you notice me glancing at my gemstone bracelet, or fidgeting with it, those are moments when I’m remembering how wonderfully unique and special each of us is. They are moments of affirmation as I remember how special you are.
Always yours for conservation,
Tom Salzer, WACD Executive Director
P.S.: Many thanks to my brother Eric for improving the old WWII photo of Dad!