written for The Day
After the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, I went looking for my old prisoner-of-war bracelet. It was tucked in a folder of childhood papers.
The stainless steel band with “Capt. Richard G. Morin, 12-20-68” looks exactly as it did in the early 1970s. The layer of nail polish still protects the black painted letters.
The bracelet cost $5 in 1972. I bought it against my mother’s strong wishes. She told me she thought the bracelets exploited soldiers. Was it respectful, in fact, for a seventh-grader in Shetland sweater and culottes to sport the name of Richard G. Morin to feel closer to the Vietnam tragedy?
I thought so at the time. I worried about Capt. Morin as much as a 13-year-old could about someone she’d never met who was put into a kind of danger she could never imagine.
The name seemed more real than the violent images in Newsweek, Time and Life magazines in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Lying on my stomach on our living room carpet, I saw crying Vietnamese children running from gunfire, close-range executions and the now-famous shot of the Buddhist monk who burned himself to death to protest the war. I remember staring at the picture of the monk for a long time, wondering why dying would make a stronger point than living.
Somewhere in that alien environment, Richard Girard Morin was lost on Dec. 20, 1968. This month I set out to track his fate. The Internet and its endless databases and links make this possible now in a way it never was before.
During the 1968 Christmas season, I was 9, in fourth grade and playing a page in the ballet “The Nutcracker.” Capt. Morin was 24, married and living in Tewksbury, Mass., before he was dispatched to Vietnam.
On Dec. 20, 1968, in a pink velvet tunic and a feathered hat, on the stage of McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., I carried on the chairs for Clara and the Prince. In his battle garb, Capt. Morin of the U.S. Marine Corps climbed into an F4B and with a partner and took off for somewhere in Laos. Seven months after peace talks began in Paris, that day was the first day of his Vietnam tour of duty.
Laos and Cambodia were the scenes of secret wars between the CIA and the North Vietnamese. Without the permission of Congress, President Nixon ordered surveillance and bombing in Laos and Cambodia. Military leaders knew the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were hiding supplies there.
In 1968, most Americans had no idea that pilots like Richard Morin were sent to a place like Laos. And when his plane crashed, no one here knew what had happened to him or his partner, Robert Kent, 28, of Dallas, Texas.
Both men were listed as missing in action until at least 1973. (In fact, my bracelet is not a POW bracelet; it is an MIA bracelet.) At some point, however, the Vietnamese confirmed that Capt. Morin had died. But his body never was recovered.
When that information had sunk in for just a few days, I found postings, also on the Internet, from a man and a woman, each of whom also owns a bracelet with Capt. Morin’s name on it.
They, too, had wondered about him for a long time and had sought out details in the data banks.
So, now, the question is: of what use was my hope that Capt. Morin had lived? Did it do any good, for him or for myself, to slip on that bracelet four years after he crashed, or to look at his name a hundred times a day for more than a year, hoping he was safe?
It did, though it took a long time to become obvious. Capt. Morin seemed old and mysterious to me at age 13. Now he seems like a young innocent from whom life was stolen. The news photos of the war aren’t as real as the news that the soldier on my bracelet is dead.
I have posted the entire story here because it is not yet available on The Day’s archives. Visit The Day at www.theday.com.
About This Article
This was published in 2000. While working as a staff writer for The Day, I dabbled in first-person column-writing. I explored subjects like teenagers wearing too-long sleeves, research on how people hate to mop and vacuum, and the Vietnam prisioner-of-war bracelet I wore as a middle-school student in the early 1970s. On June 25, another person who wore Capt. Richard G. Morin’s bracelet contacted me. If there are others, get in touch, please.