I remember the day vividly. It was the Fourth of July and we were sitting in the bleachers waiting for the fireworks show to begin. Next to me sat a group of teenagers. The one closest was absently turning a silver bracelet on his wrist around and around. The skin was pale where the bracelet naturally laid compared to the dark summer tan on the rest of his arm. When he stopped turning it I was able to see that it had the name of a person and a date.
When I went to buy a drink at the concession stand I saw a table with the same bracelets. The lady at the table explained that each bracelet had the rank, name and date of capture for a Prisoner of War (POW) from the Viet Nam war. The cost was $3.00 and if I bought one, I had to promise to not take it off my wrist until that serviceman was brought home. I selected the bracelet with ‘LCDR Theodore F. Kopfman USN 15 Jun 66’ engraved on it. I placed it on my wrist and kept my word.
On February 12, 1973 I sat with my parents watching the first released POW’s deplane in what was called ‘Operation Homecoming.’ As each serviceman stepped out, his name was announced. I waited anxiously as I turned the bracelet around and around on my wrist, a habit I developed the day I decided to wear it. We didn’t know if he was coming home at all, we were just hoping. My heart was pounding, and I had butterflies in my stomach. He wasn’t on the first or second plane. The doors opened on the third plane and I heard the announcer say ‘Lieutenant Commander Theodore F. Kopfman.’ My parents clapped, and I began to cry. The bracelet came off and my meager mission was accomplished.
Decades later I asked my Uncle, who has a vast network of military veterans, if he could find the Lieutenant Commander for me. I wanted to tell him that I had thought about him every day that I wore his bracelet and thank him for his service. It took my Uncle just days. He had been promoted to Commander and at the age of 82 had recently passed away - less than 30 miles from my home.
I learned he had been given the Silver Star with this Citation:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Commander [then Lieutenant Commander] Theodore Frank Kopfman (NSN: 0-597544), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action on 15 June 1966, while serving as a pilot of a light jet attack aircraft with Attack Squadron FIFTY-FIVE (VA-55, embarked in the U.S.S. RANGER (CVA-61), during aerial combat operations in Southeast Asia. As leader of a flight of four aircraft, Commander Kopfman planned, led and executed a highly successful attack against a Surface-to-Air Missile site. Although the flight was fired upon approaching the target area, Commander Kopfman avoided the missiles by evasive maneuvering, and visually acquired the target. In the face of intense and accurate heavy and medium gunfire which blanketed the sky, he spearheaded the assault, placing his air-to-ground missiles among the enemy missile launchers as he pulled up and directed the remainder of the flight in acquisition of the target. Commander Kopfman's superb leadership and exceptional weapons delivery resulted in the destruction of a highly dangerous enemy missile complex. His gallant and courageous performance was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
I don’t know why I thought about him so soon after he had passed away. Despite never meeting him, I wonder if we had a connection somehow. Perhaps I’ll be able to meet him on the flip side.
Thoughts that are alien to any of my other projects can be found here.