“Recessional,” a Rudyard Kipling poem, is a common hymn at war remembrances services. One phrase—lest we forget—is used frequently in film, literature, and music to remind us of those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
As we honor our military veterans on Veterans Day (November 11), we pause and remember the courage of our heroes and heroines, whether living, deceased, or missing in action; those whose remains were repatriated; and those who lost later battles to disease, like the late U.S. Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, and decades later succumbed to cancer.
War has no boundaries when it comes to impacting our lives. Regardless of country of origin, everyone has experienced or knows someone who has experienced conflict or tragedy.
At a recent conference, I talked with a guest named Andrea Olsen. I asked Andrea about the Vietnam War MIA (missing in action) bracelet she wore. Later I asked for permission to share her story in AgeWise King County:
“Over the course of the decades that I have worn the Vietnam War MIA bracelet bearing the name ‘Maj. Robert Elliot,’ I have often thought about this soldier and his family. I wondered if he had children. Who was this man and what were the circumstances when he was lost?
“As the 50-year mark of the date of when Major Elliot was lost (2-14-1968) neared, I decided to try to learn more. Especially important to me was to let any family members, who I might be able to locate, know that I had worn his MIA bracelet for decades. I wanted to share what the experience had been like for me wearing his bracelet for so many years.
“My search efforts gleaned substantial results. I found a reporter who had authored an article about Colonel Elliot (he was posthumously given a higher rank). She had been in extensive communication with several of the Colonel’s sons. His eldest son had been diligent in retaining information about his father, especially regarding the extensive attempts to locate Colonel Elliot’s remains and to return his father to the United States. The perseverance of Colonel Elliot’s wife and entire family to press the responsible military and government officials to locate his remains should inspire all of us.
“In 1998, in a rice field near Hanoi, the remains of Colonel Elliot were excavated and returned to the family. This heroic pilot was finally laid to rest—31 years after he was shot down—with full military honors in Washington’s Arlington National Cemetery.
“I still wear the bracelet today. I purchased it during the summer of 1970. I had no idea as an 11-year-old that I would wear the bracelet decades later. I wore the bracelet throughout my teen years because I felt it was important to not forget the service of people like Maj. Elliot (as my bracelet reads) and to support efforts to find out what happened to these men.
“Over the years, as friends and strangers would notice my bracelet and ask me about it, there would be a wonderful opportunity to remember and share in our gratitude for those that serve our country. Many veterans thanked me for wearing the bracelet. After those countless interactions, it’s never occurred to me to not wear the bracelet—now very worn and scratched.
“My daughter was born in 1991 and has been with me during many of these conversations that arise because of my wearing the bracelet. She is a wonderful 27-year-old woman who is politically aware, active, and cares about the well-being of our nation. I look forward to passing on the bracelet to her. I know she and I will know the right moment.
“I come from a family where we are proud of those who have served in the military. My father and my uncles served in WWII, a cousin served in Afghanistan, another was a Navy Seal, and another is a West Point graduate and currently serves.
“It is a privilege, in my view, to remember all those who served our nation and were willing to defend the principles upon which our Republic stands. We are better people for keeping our eyes and hearts on the sacrifice and the purpose behind that sacrifice on our veterans—those who are with us and those who have passed.”
To Colonel Robert M. Elliot and his family, we have not forgotten.
Contributor Mary Pat O’Leary RN, BSN is a planner with Aging and Disability Services.
Photo credit (top): The photo of Colonel Robert Elliot’s funeral escort when his body was laid to rest at Arlington National Ceremony is courtesy of the Elliot family via Andrea Olsen, who shared her story, above. Learn more about Colonel Elliot on the Arlington National Cemetery website (click here).
Did you or your spouse serve in the military?
Aging and Disability Services offers no-cost, in-home counseling to men and women age 55+ who served in the military (also their spouses and spouse survivors) who may feel lost, lonely, or sad. PEARLS counseling helps people feel better by identifying problems and working toward solutions. PEARLS counseling may be provided in addition to other veteran and non-veteran services. For more information, including brochures, flyers, and video stories, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/PEARLS or contact Suzet Tave (Suzet.Tave@seattle.gov or 206-615-0533).