One Man’s Mission to Collect P.O.W. Bracelets

One Man’s Mission to Collect P.O.W. Bracelets

Martín Di Felice


Pieces of shiny metal, carefully lined up in rows are on display at the Palm Springs Air Museum. They’re bracelets. They’re not made of gold or adorned with jewels but inscribed with names that makes them priceless. Americans once wore them with pride … 

"The P.O.W.  / M.I.A bracelets that people wore in the early ’70s to try and do something about the more than 3000 thousand missing Americans in Vietnam," says Palm Springs Air Museum volunteer Dr. Dave Thompson.

 The bracelets became popular in through a campaign called VIVA  or Voices In Vital America, started by two college students, in Los Angeles, to call attention to servicemen captured or missing.The bracelets were forgotten with time.

Then, a plane like the one flown by Colonel Norman Schmidt, who was captured and killed in Vietnam, was dedicated at the Palm Springs Air Museum. A woman who wore his bracelet as a little girl found out about the name on the plane and reached out to the museum because she wanted to donate the bracelet to his widow. When the museum arranged for the meeting, donated it to his widow she told Thompson she had another one that belonged to a different service member who was missing in action.

"And I said, ‘Would you like to donate it to the museum?’ because we didn’t have anything like that here, she did and so that’s when I did the research  realized 5 million were made there must be a lot still out there," says Thompson.  

And so his mission began. To collect every bracelet and their stories, including the story of the person who wore it. 

"Wearing the bracelet was not just a piece of jewelry, you became almost one with that person," says Thompson adding that he met one woman who says she would pray for the man whose bracelet she wore. 

This volunteer spends countless hours tracking down the bracelets and interviewing people to try to complete a display that honors those who, despite serving their country, often got less than they deserved.

"It’s just a way to thank the Vietnam veterans who never got thanked property, far from it it was really horrible what happened to them when they came home," says Thompson.

And he won’t stop until every bracelet sits here as a proud reminder of their sacrifice.

"I’ll never rest until I have all of them," he says. 

If you have a bracelet or know someone who does and would like to donate it to the museum contact Dr. Dave Thompson via email: or at the Palm Springs Air Museum  (760) 778-6262.

You can also sponsor a bracelet for $25.00.