Chills ran through St. Stephen resident Linda Thrower on Monday when she and her husband Jerry learned of the death of retired Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day.
She had never met him and never spoken to him. For years she had tried to reach out to him and return something he should have — his Vietnam War POW bracelet.
Linda recalls receiving her bracelet from her father, who also had a bracelet, as a teenager in the early 1970s.
“I actually had two cousins in Vietnam,” Linda said. “One was a fighter pilot and the other was a navigator. I guess it was kind of, in a way, an outreach of support for them.”
For Jerry, the bracelet reminded him of how so many others were taken in the war, including his friend who lived up the road.
“I was playing basketball with him the day he left to go to boot camp,” Jerry said. “I was still in high school. He wasn’t over there any time before he got killed.”
Shortly thereafter, Jerry himself was going through pre-draft screenings at Fort Jackson. He didn’t serve, because of the random draft-lottery system in place at the time, based on your birthday.
“I missed being drafted by about eight days,” Jerry said.
The bracelets began as a way to commemorate the missing soldiers and support the war in 1970, started by a group called Voices in Vital America.
Each bracelet had a different name on it, along with the date the soldier was captured.
About 5 million bracelets were sold in seven years, according to the group.
Holding onto the bracelet for four decades, Linda felt a deep connection with the veteran. The news of his death pained her.
“My heart just kind of sank just a little bit,” Linda said about reading his obituary. “He was my POW from this bracelet and he died. It’s a bit of a sense of loss.”
To Linda, Day represented a bygone era in heroes. Few like this Vietnam vet, she said, have the same capacity for courage.
“In this day and time, you don’t see people who literally are willing to give their all for anything,” Linda said. “He put himself in harm’s way every day for us.”
Day’s career was heavily decorated with military awards after his stateside return, receiving the Medal of Honor and the Air Force Cross.
“He won every medal you could get,” Jerry said.
Small-town people, Jerry and Linda said, were greatly supportive of the veterans and felt these men should be treated as heroes. A new era of activism and distrust in government turned some Americans, in the Throwers’ opinion, away from these soldiers.
“There were a lot of emotions from fear of being drafted to absolutely not supporting (the war),” Linda said.
After three or four years of wearing the bracelet, Linda stored it away in a cedar chest for safe keeping.
“I think I put it in the cedar chest when I had babies,” Linda said. “They would get into everything.”
It was later moved from the cedar chest to a curio cabinet. Day’s keepsake kept company with baseballs signed by New York Mets pitcher Bobby Parnell, the roommate of their son Jeff at Charleston Southern University, and their kids’ Sunday school perfect-attendance records.
Years later, as her children started looking through the curio cabinet, they wanted to know about this man and the bracelet sitting prominently along with her other prized possessions.
“Sugar, I really don’t know,” Linda told her daughter Jamie. “He was somebody random.”
The Throwers hope to either give the bracelet to Day’s family or have it donated to a memorial museum.
“I know if it was my husband or child, I know I’d love to have it,” Linda said.
Reach Nick Watson at 937-4810.