Twenty-Nine Vietnam War POW/MIA Bracelets
Twenty-Nine Vietnam War POW/MIA Bracelets; Twenty-seven are nickel-plated, the other two are copper, each engraved with the name, rank and date of loss of the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action soldier, the bands measuring 12.5 mm wide and curved to fit the wrist of the wearer. Ranging from very better than very fine to extremely fine. Footnote: Each bracelet is engraved, at a minimum, with the name, rank, service, loss date, and country of loss of a missing man from the Vietnam War. The first bracelets were made by Carol Bates (Brown) and come in various finishes. She was the National Chairman of the POW/MIA Bracelet Campaign for VIVA (Voices In Vital America), the Los Angeles based student organization that produced and distributed the bracelets during the Vietnam War. Entertainers Bob Hope and Martha Raye served with her as honorary co-chairmen. The idea for the bracelets was started by Bates and another fellow college student, Kay Hunter, as a way to remember American prisoners of war suffering in captivity in Southeast Asia. In late 1969 television personality Bob Dornan, who several years later was elected to the US Congress, introduced them and several other members of VIVA to three wives of missing pilots. They thought the student group could assist them in drawing public attention to the prisoners and missing in Vietnam. The idea of circulating petitions and letters to Hanoi demanding humane treatment for the POWs was appealing, as they were looking for ways college students could become involved in positive programs to support US soldiers without becoming embroiled in the controversy of the war itself. The relatives of the men were beginning to organize locally, but the National League of POW/MIA Families had yet to be formed. During that time, Bob Dornan wore a bracelet he had obtained in Vietnam from hill tribesmen, which he said always reminded him of the suffering the war had brought to so many. They wanted to get similar bracelets to wear to remember US POWs, however, the major stumbling block being that VIVA had no money to make bracelets, although their advisor was able to find a small shop in Santa Monica, California that did engraving on silver used to decorate horses, the owner of the shop agreeing to make ten sample bracelets. Armed with the sample bracelets, they set out to find someone who would donate money to make bracelets for distribution to college students. It had not occurred to the group that adults would want to wear the bracelets, as they weren't very attractive. Several approaches to Ross Perot were rebuffed, to include a proposal that he loan us $10,000 at 10% interest. They even visited Howard Hughes' senior aides in Las Vegas. They were sympathetic but not willing to help fund the project. Finally, in the late summer of 1970, Gloria Coppin's husband donated enough brass and copper to make 1,200 bracelets. The Santa Monica engraver agreed to make them and they could pay him from any proceeds that they might realize. Although the initial bracelets were going to cost about seventy-five cents to make, they were unsure about how much they should ask people to donate to receive a bracelet. In 1970, a student admission to the local movie theater was $2.50. They decided that this seemed like a fair price to ask from a student for one of the nickel-plated bracelets. They also made copper ones for adults who believed they helped their "tennis elbow." Again, according to the group's logic, adults could pay more, so they requested $3.00 for the copper bracelets. At the suggestion of local POW/MIA relatives, the group attended the National League of Families annual meeting in Washington, DC in late September and were amazed at the interest of the wives and parents in having their man's name put on bracelets and in obtaining them for distribution. On Veterans Day, November 11, 1970, the bracelet program officially kicked off the with a news conference at the Universal Sheraton Hotel. Public response quickly grew, with requests growing to 12,000 a day In addition, they were bringing in money to pay for brochures, bumper stickers, buttons, advertising and whatever else the group could do to publicize the POW/MIA issue. A close alliance was formed between the creators of the bracelets and the relatives of the missing men: they got bracelets from them on consignment and could keep some of the money they raised to fund their local organizations, as well as being furnished with all the stickers and other literature they could give away. Bates and Steve Frank ended up dropping out of college to work full time for VIVA, to administer the bracelet and other POW/MIA programs, none of them getting rich off the bracelets. VIVA's adult advisory group, headed by Gloria Coppin, was adamant that the group would not have a highly paid professional staff. In all, VIVA distributed nearly five million bracelets and raised enough money to produce untold millions of bumper stickers, buttons, brochures, matchbooks, newspaper ads, etc., to draw attention to the missing men. In 1976, VIVA closed its doors. By then the American public was tired of hearing about Vietnam and showed no interest in the POW/MIA issue.