The first bracelets were made by a Carol Bates, who now works for the Defense
POW-Missing Persons Office. The bracelets come in various finishes and on each
bracelet is engraved, at a minimum, the name, rank, service, loss date, and country
of loss of a missing man from the Vietnam War. Here is Carol's article on the
origin of the bracelets.
History of the POW/MIA Bracelet
By Carol Bates Brown
In recent months, several individuals have contacted
me looking for information on the origin of the POW/MIA bracelets worn during
the early 1970s. The following is offered for those interested in learning the
history of the bracelet phenomena.
I was the National Chairman of the POW/MIA Bracelet
Campaign for VIVA (Voices In Vital America), the Los Angeles based student
organization that produced and distributed the bracelets during the Vietnam
War. Entertainers Bob Hope and Martha Raye served with me as honorary co-chairmen.
The idea for the bracelets was started by a fellow
college student, Kay Hunter, and me, as a way to remember American prisoners
of war suffering in captivity in Southeast Asia. In late 1969 television personality
Bob Dornan (who several years later was elected to the US Congress) introduced
us and several other members of VIVA to three wives of missing pilots. They
thought our student group could assist them in drawing public attention to
the prisoners and missing in Vietnam. The idea of circulating petitions and
letters to Hanoi demanding humane treatment for the POWs was appealing, as
we were looking for ways college students could become involved in positive
programs to support US soldiers without becoming embroiled in the controversy
of the war itself. The relatives of the men were beginning to organize locally,
but the National League of POW/MIA Families had yet to be formed.
During that time Bob Dornan wore a bracelet he had
obtained in Vietnam from hill tribesmen, which he said always reminded him
of the suffering the war had brought to so many. We wanted to get similar bracelets
to wear to remember US POWs, so rather naively, we tried to figure out a way
to go to Vietnam. Since no one wanted to fund two sorority-girl types on a
tour to Vietnam during the height of the war, and our parents were livid at
the idea, we gave up and Kay Hunter began to check out ways to make bracelets.
Soon other activities drew her attention and she dropped out of VIVA, leaving
me, another student Steve Frank, and our adult advisor, Gloria Coppin, to pursue
the POW/MIA awareness program. The major problem was that VIVA had no money
to make bracelets, although our advisor was able to find a small shop in Santa
Monica that did engraving on silver used to decorate horses. The owner agreed
to make 10 sample bracelets. I can remember us sitting around in Gloria Coppin's
kitchen with the engraver on the telephone, as we tried to figure out what
we would put on the bracelets.
This is why they carried only name, rank and date of loss, since we didn't
have time to think of anything else.
Armed with the sample bracelets, we set out to find
someone who would donate money to make bracelets for distribution to college
students. It had not yet occurred to us that adults would want to wear the
things, as they weren't very attractive. Several approaches to Ross Perot were
rebuffed, to include a proposal that he loan us $10,000 at 10% interest. We
even visited Howard Hughes' senior aides in Las Vegas. They were sympathetic
but not willing to help fund our project. Finally in the late summer of 1970,
Gloria Coppin's husband donated enough brass and copper to make 1,200 bracelets.
The Santa Monica engraver agreed to make them and we could pay him from any
proceeds we might realize.
Although the initial bracelets were going to cost
about 75 cents to make, we were unsure about how much we should ask people
to donate to receive a bracelet. In 1970, a student admission to the local
movie theater was $2.50. We decided this seemed like a fair price to ask from
a student for one of the nickel-plated bracelets. We also made copper ones
for adults who believed they helped their "tennis elbow." Again, according
to our logic adults could pay more, so we would request $3.00 for the copper
At the suggestion of local POW/MIA relatives, we
attended the National League of Families annual meeting in Washington, DC in
late September. We were amazed at the interest of the wives and parents in
having their man's name put on bracelets and in obtaining them for distribution.
Bob Dornan, who was always a champion of the POW/MIAs and their families, continued
to publicize the issue on his Los Angeles television talk show and promoted
On Veterans Day, November 11, 1970, we officially
kicked off the bracelet program with a news conference at the Universal Sheraton
Hotel. Public response quickly grew and we eventually got to the point we were
receiving over 12,000 requests a day. This also brought money in to pay for
brochures, bumper stickers, buttons, advertising and whatever else we could
do to publicize the POW/MIA issue. We formed a close alliance with the relatives
of missing men -- they got bracelets from us on consignment and could keep
some of the money they raised to fund their local organizations. We also tried
to furnish these groups with all the stickers and other literature they could
While Steve Frank and I ended up dropping out of
college to work for VIVA full time to administer the bracelet and other POW/MIA
programs, none of us got rich off the bracelets. VIVA's adult advisory group,
headed by Gloria Coppin, was adamant that we would not have a highly paid professional
staff. As I recall the highest salary was $15,000, a year and we were able
to keep administrative costs to less that 20 percent of income.
In all, VIVA distributed nearly five million bracelets
and raised enough money to produce untold millions of bumper stickers, buttons,
brochures, matchbooks, newspaper ads, etc., to draw attention to the missing
men. In 1976, VIVA closed its doors. By then the American public was tired
of hearing about Vietnam and showed no interest in the POW/MIA issue.