I’m taking a day off from complaining to remember our Veterans and to tell a story of why this Veteran’s Day is very special to me.
When I was a teenager, the Vietnam War had been going on for years, Every night, on the news, we would hear the numbers of soldiers who were killed that day. Sometimes there were hundreds or thousands who died. It got to the point that everyone seemed to know someone who was in the war or someone you knew well, knew of someone in the war. It touched everyone‘s lives.
When I was 14 or 15, I saw an advertisement for POW bracelets that one could wear until the POWs were released. I sent for one and when it came I wore it everyday. My bracelet had the name of Commander Robert Shumaker on it and the date he was taken prisoner, February 11, 1965. I thought about him and prayed for him and his family on a daily basis. I couldn’t help but think of the worrying his family must be going through and I had no idea of the suffering he was enduring or if he was even alive. After the POWs were released, I saved my bracelet and after 5 moves and over 40 years later, it is right here beside me still.
Last month, my cousin posted a status on Facebook asking everyone to post their favorite memory of the 70’s and my mind went immediately to my bracelet. I was commenting back about POW bracelets in general and then stopped to go take mine out. There it was, just as I remembered it, shiny and silver and clearly inscribed with the name of a very great man who fought for our country so many years ago. I became sad, because I never knew what happened to him. Suddenly I got the idea to google his name on the internet just to see if I could learn anything at all about it. Within seconds I was overwhelmed with dozens of sites that told of his biography, all his accomplishments after the war, his family, and even a video in which he describes the secret tapping code, he and fellow prisoners of war made up in order to communicate with each other from their prison cells. Best of all, after very long eight years of captivity, Rear Admiral, Robert H. Shumaker was alive and well and living in Virginia. With some encouragement from friends, I decided to write to him and tell him what I have just told you, that a young girl wore his bracelet so many years ago and prayed for his safe return. I sent that handwritten letter out on October 10th, 2010 and to my surprise, on October 30th, I had a letter from him waiting in my mailbox! This is what he wrote:
Thank you so much for your kind letter of the 10th. I guess we’ve “known” each other for over forty years. I just want you to know how much I appreciate your having worn my bracelet during the Vietnam war. It must have worked, because I made it back home and have enjoyed a lot of fun times since.
I went back to school and got a doctorate in electrical engineering. Our son, who was just three weeks old when I left, went to Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth (15 years) and is now a neurosurgeon. My wife, who was a Canadian, became a U.S. citizen and we live near Washington, DC in a house I designed in my mind in Vietnam. I held interesting jobs in the Navy as a program manager, then as head of the navy’s Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, and then as a research and development coordinator in the Pentagon. After the Navy I was an assistant Dean at George Washington University, and then a dean at the University of North Dakota.
I just hope that the young people of today have the same patriotic spirit that you exhibited in the late ‘60’s. I am grateful for your prayers during that time, and I hope that you too are enjoying a fruitful, productive and happy life.
With best wishes, I remain,
Robert H. Shumaker, Rear Admiral USN (ret)
And now, with tears in my eyes, I am going to respond to Mr. Shumaker on the most memorable Veteran’s Day of my life. He has graciously provided me with his email address so, hopefully, he will receive my response today.