If you’re at least as old as me, you might remember wearing a POW/MIA bracelet back in the early 1970s.I remember sending $3 and receiving mine thru the mail a couple of weeks later. His name was Fredric Mellor and he was from Rhode Island. I lived in Massachusetts at the time and was pleased that I had been assigned the task of holding hope for a fellow New Englander.
The years passed and the bracelet was lost, probably somewhere between moving to college, back again, then moving out when I got married. The Vietnam War ended. I was busy raising a family. The bracelet was gone. But, I always remembered his name and occasionally wondered if he had ever returned home.
Fast forward twenty years: In 1996, I met a man who was also a veteran of that awful war. His job was driving the traveling Moving Wall monument around the country. When he brought the Wall to Massachusetts, we spent time together. He educated me and reignited my passion for those who had been lost – especially those who had never been accounted for. Seeing Mellor’s name on that Wall touched me deeply. Ordering a replacement bracelet was easy and, with the click of my mouse, I soon had a brand new one bearing Mellor’s name. Modern convenience also led me to explore further. I learned that he remained MIA, among those men who never returned home to their families.
This time, I made sure the bracelet followed me during two subsequent moves, giving it a safe spot in my jewelry box. I didn’t wear it after my visits to the Moving Wall, but I’d see it whenever I went into the small, oak drawer and I’d say a little prayer for Mellor. He had started to feel like family and the fact that I had never known him mattered little. We were both Rhode Islanders now, which made me feel even more connected.
Now, another twenty years have passed. Thursday, I was waiting for my turn at the hairdresser’s. I picked up the latest edition of the local weekly paper that had been left on the empty seat next to me. Thumbing thru to pass the time, my eyes were drawn to an obituary that bore a familiar name. The headline read “Colonel Fredric M. Mellor.”
I was stunned. There was a photograph, finally putting a face to a name I had held close for nearly five decades. He was young, serious and handsome in his US Air Force uniform. His eyes were filled with pride, ambition and determination. Mellor was the first Rhode Island casualty of the war in Vietnam. He was a pilot. He was killed in action in 1965, about six years before I first wore his bracelet.
And he was finally coming home.
The article documented an impressive career. Mellor served his country well, enlisting as a radio operator but quickly applying for pilot training because he had always loved airplanes. He had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Military Science. On August 13, 1965, he was flying the lead aircraft on a mission to conduct photo reconnaissance of a suspected missile site in the Republic of Vietnam. He crashed due to hostile ground fire and he survived ejection from the plane, establishing radio contact as he tried to escape the enemy. But, contact was lost. Despite a two-day search, neither Mellor nor his aircraft were found.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Valor and the Purple Heart medal, among others. But the fact that struck me hardest was that he had married and had a daughter before being deployed for active duty in Vietnam. She would probably have been a toddler when her father disappeared. She’d be in her fifties today. I wondered if she could even remember him. His parents and a brother were no longer living. Somehow, he felt even more like family now.
Mellor’s remains were recovered and identified on July 13, 2018, exactly one month shy of the 53rd anniversary of his death. He is expected to be received in Rhode Island September 26th with military honors. I’m planning to be there to welcome him home.
*As of June 20, 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel, US Military and Civilian personnel still unaccounted for totalled 1,597.