Anyone who has been around the MIA issue for a few minutes is aware of the POW-MIA
bracelets. The bracelets come in various finishes -- I have seen aluminum bracelets
as well as bracelets of gold, silver, stainless steel, colored aluminum, copper, and
brass. On each bracelet is engraved, at a minimum, the name, rank, service, loss
date, and country of loss of a missing man from the Vietnam War. From time to time I
have been asked where the bracelets originated. The first bracelets were made by a
young lady named Carol Bates, who now works for the Defense POW-Missing Persons Office
(that is, she, Carol, was younger then than now, as we all were). Here is Carol's
article on the origin of the bracelets.
Carol's article on the Origin of the POW-MIA Bracelets
History of the POW/MIA Bracelets
In recent months, several individuals have contacted me
looking for information on the origin of the POW/MIA bracelets worn during the early
1970s. The following is offered for those interested in learning the history
of the bracelet phenomena.
I 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 me as honorary co-chairmen.
The idea for the bracelets was started by a fellow college student, Kay Hunter, and me, 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 us and several other members of VIVA to three wives
of missing pilots. They thought our 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
we 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. We wanted to get similar bracelets to wear to remember US POWs, so
rather naively, we tried to figure out a way to go to Vietnam. Since no one wanted
to fund two sorority-girl types on a tour to Vietnam during the height of the war, and our
parents were livid at the idea, we gave up and Kay Hunter began to check out ways to
make bracelets. Soon other activities drew her attention and she dropped out
of VIVA, leaving me, another student Steve Frank, and our adult advisor, Gloria Coppin, to
the POW/MIA awareness program.
The major problem was that VIVA had no money to make
bracelets, although our advisor was able to find a small shop in Santa Monica that did
engraving on silver used to decorate horses. The owner agreed to make 10 sample
bracelets. I can remember us sitting around in Gloria Coppin's kitchen with the
engraver on the telephone, as we tried to figure out what we would put on the
bracelets. This is why they carried only name, rank and date of loss, since we
didn't have time to think of anything else.
Armed with the sample bracelets, we set out to find someone who would donate money to make
bracelets for distribution to college students. It had not yet occurred to us that
adults would want to wear the things, 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. We even visited Howard Hughes' senior aides in Las Vegas. They
were sympathetic but not willing to help fund our 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 we could pay him from
we might realize.
Although the initial bracelets were going to cost about 75 cents to make, we were unsure
about how much we should ask people to donate to receive a bracelet. In 1970, a
student admission to the local movie theater was $2.50. We decided this seemed like a fair
price to ask from a student for one of the nickel-plated bracelets. We also made
copper ones for adults who believed they helped their "tennis elbow."
Again, according to our logic adults could pay more, so we would request $3.00 for the
At the suggestion of local POW/MIA relatives, we attended the National League of Families
annual meeting in Washington, DC in late September. We 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. Bob Dornan, who was always a champion of the POW/MIAs and their
families, continued to publicize the issue on his Los Angeles television talk show and
promoted the bracelets.
On Veterans Day, November 11, 1970, we officially kicked off the bracelet program with a
news conference at the Universal Sheraton Hotel. Public response quickly grew and we
eventually got to the point we were receiving over 12,000 requests a day. This also
brought money in to pay for brochures, bumper stickers, buttons, advertising and whatever
else we could do to publicize the POW/MIA issue. We formed a close alliance with the
relatives of missing men - they got bracelets from us on consignment and could keep some
of the money they raised to fund their local organizations. We also tried to furnish
these groups with all the stickers and other literature they could give away.
While Steve Frank and I ended up dropping out of college to work for VIVA full time
to administer the bracelet and other POW/MIA programs, none of us got rich off the
bracelets. VIVA's adult advisory group, headed by Gloria Coppin, was adamant that we
would not have a highly paid professional staff. As I recall the highest salary was
$15,000, a year and we were able to keep administrative costs to less than 20 percent of
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
-- Carol Bates Brown
To purchase an MIA bracelet
If you would like to purchase a bracelet, I recommend that you go to the
web site of the National League of Families of Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia
(the "League"): http://www.pow-miafamilies.org/
At the bottom of their opening page you will find several links; one of those
links takes you to a page of vendors recommended by the League. Click on that link
and browse the vendors -- they have bracelets, flags, and the like for sale.
To get information about a name on a bracelet
If you have a bracelet and would like to get information on the man whose
name is on the bracelet, send a letter to:
Defense POW/Missing Persons Office
ATTN: Public Affairs
2400 Defense, Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301 - 2400
Give them the information off the bracelet and you will receive an answer.
Be certain to ask them for the current status of the individual.
More information about the POW-MIA bracelets
-- PLEASE READ THIS
I receive a lot of e-mail about bracelets. The e-mail
falls into one of several types: