A Bracelet, a War and Memories

Maj. John Baldwin (Ret.) is a good friend, former vascular surgeon who served in Vietnam and frequent reader of this site. He submitted the following story to me about former classmate and Vietnam POW Maj. Glenn Wilson. It begins with finding a bracelet.

glenn-wilson

When the Gator Harbor dredge operators pumping out Stevenson Creek near Tampa, Florida back in the spring of 2014 stopped to routinely clean the giant filter of sticks, cans, bottles and other debris, they found a shiny copper bracelet inscribed “Major Glenn Wilson USAF POW 1967.” Sucked up with tons of sand, it had come 500 yards in a pipe from the ship to the processing plant on shore and into the machine that separates out the solids from the sand.

The bracelet most likely dated back to those turbulent days in the 1970’s when millions were sold for a couple dollars each to get Americans to pay attention to the several thousand boys who were missing in action or imprisoned in North Vietnam. Gator Harbor found Glenn’s daughter Leslie, in Texas and mailed it to her.

“We really appreciate receiving this on Memorial Day,” she said.  “We have many bags of these with dad’s name on them but have not received one since 2008 when a lady in West Virginia who had bought it in 1971, delivered it to us, so this new one really was moving.”

In his nine months of combat, Glenn Wilson had flown over North Vietnam many times in his F4C Phantom but never through the density of anti-aircraft and ground-to-air missile fire that he met on August 7, 1967. When smoke filled the cockpit and the engine quit, he pulled the red EJECT lever and parachuted into a rice paddy. He was about to begin nearly six years of brutal interrogation, starvation, sub-human confinement and finally torture for his role in a failed escape from the Hanoi Hilton during the year prior to his sudden release on March 14, 1973.

Among Glenn’s many awards are the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross (2) and The Purple Heart (2).

Between early January and late March 1973, nearly 30 C-141 flights landed in Hanoi and brought the 591 Americans home, 332 of them Air Force officers and the rest Navy flyers.

The largest banquet ever held at the White House was hosted by President Nixon for the men and their families and the tears and festivities lasted until morning. Glenn went back to his Air Force career, with his wife Adlyn at his side, his “kids” Leslie, Linda and Tom now teenagers. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Admiral Stockdale, the ranking prisoner stated: “Instead of returning home ‘unraveled’ from years of abuse, isolation and deprivation, 80% of the men that Operation Homecoming returned continued in their military service. Many later became leaders in government, business, law or academia.”

Glenn was on that path when fate stepped in once more, developing malignant melanoma which took him down on January 30, 1988. Adlyn died in August 2013.

My interest in this story came from long-time friend, Bob Hite Jr., the former NBC-TV anchor in Tampa, who called me: “John, You went to Dartmouth. This story about a POW bracelet might interest you.” And so the quest began.

Glenn Wilson’s basketball exploits were legendary. He broke the Dartmouth all-time single game scoring record with 35 points in the Winter Carnival game against Columbia. Captain of the team with Doggie Julian as coach, they won several tournaments and just missed the Ivy crown. His dedication to excellence and honor as our classmate later served him well through his incredibly difficult ordeal in Vietnam, and I am sure that you, like I, will take a moment to reflect on our blessings, our education and the standards we have held dear for these now 60-plus years.

The citation on his Silver Star reads in part:

After a planned escape from the ‘Zoo Camp’ failed, the enemy launched a massive torture purge. Major Wilson was taken well beyond the normal threshold of pain and he continued to resist the enemy. His gallantry and devotion to duty has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

From Dartmouth, to a prison of war, to a lost bracelet and to the memories of our past, we salute you, great classmate, LTC Glenn Wilson USAF.  We are honored to call you “one of us.”

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