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POW bracelet proves powerful connection

Posted April 17, 2015

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— Three people connected by a band of metal – a Vietnam War-era service bracelet – made a personal connection Friday night in Raleigh.

Norman Gaddis was a U.S. Airman captured after his plane went down over enemy territory.

Gaddis, who retired at the rank of brigadier general, was held behind enemy lines for six years. He was beaten, interrogated and kept for months in solitary confinement.

As he shared that story at the North Carolina Museum of History, Kristin Smith and Susan Strickland sat near the front, staring at the man who embodied a name they knew well.

As high schoolers, the women, like many other teens, donned the bracelet of a prisoner of war. Each one carried the name of a service member still behind enemy lines to keep hope alive that he would return home.

“We wore his bracelet so long, we felt like we knew him,” Smith said. “You just never forget the name.”

When Gaddis took the stage, the women caught their breath.

“We are so thrilled to meet you," Strickland told him. “We said many a prayer for you."

Friday was the second time the women got to meet Gaddis. They shared a passing moment at a ceremony welcoming him home after he was released as a POW.

Gaddis said he's been aware of about 1,000 of the bracelets made in his name. When someone contacts him and offers to return the token, he has one order: Keep it.

He asks that the bracelets be passed on to a younger generation so that they understand what happened during that undeclared war in Southeast Asia and remember those who still have not come home.


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