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Airman Shows Support for POWs/MIAs

By Staff Sgt. Elaine Aviles, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey, Sept. 22, 2003 – Staff Sgt. John Gibson, 728th Air Mobility Squadron maintenance training manager, has spent hundreds of dollars throughout the years on bracelets. He wears them proudly, not because of their ornamentation or craftsmanship, but for their meaning.

Each of his bracelets represents a service member lost in war.

"I bought my first bracelet from a man outside the base exchange on Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Day at my first base," Sergeant Gibson said. "I figured it was for a good cause."

The man told him about the meaning behind the bracelets and how proceeds are divided between families of missing service members and recovery missions.

"Each bracelet symbolizes a lost service member and keeps alive the hope that one day he will be found," Gibson said. "Wearing a bracelet seemed like an easy way to show support for my fellow service members."

That was 10 years ago. Gibson since has purchased dozens of the POW/MIA bracelets, each engraved with a service member's name, rank, home of record, and date and location where he last was seen.

"I feel like, in some small way, I'm making a difference by wearing them," he said. "The bracelets are also a great way to raise awareness. People ask me about them all the time. I only have five left because I keep giving bracelets away."

Although eager to share, Gibson is unwilling to part with his favorite bracelet, the one he's been wearing for more than two years.

The service member it represents was shot down in a C-130 over North Vietnam, along with about a dozen crewmembers.

"I found his story online," Gibson said. "I went back and checked on him a while later and was shocked to find out he was found. They recovered his remains and brought him home in 2001.

"I'm breaking tradition by wearing the bracelet of someone who has been found," he continued, "but I love to show it off. I feel like I played a part in his recovery."

Although the recovery was successful, many other service members remain unfound. In fact, according to the Department of Defense, more than 1,880 service members are still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, along with countless others from World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War.

"It's important not to forget," Gibson said. "Maybe some of them are still alive somewhere. I know if it was me, I'd hate to be alone somewhere, thinking I was forgotten."

Sergeant Gibson's support for missing service members extends beyond his bracelets. He was one of the volunteers for the POW/MIA Day remembrance here Sept. 19, during which military members stood vigil for half-hour increments from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

"POW/MIA Day is a chance to remember the people who gave their all for freedom," he said. "I try to do my part to honor and remember them."

(Staff Sgt. Elaine Aviles is assigned to 39th Air Base Group public affairs.)

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