We’ve been together 40 years, you and me, through a move to Chicago, a failed marriage; another move over 2,500 miles to Arizona from our home state of Michigan where we first found each other.
It has not been an easy life, but an eventful one with few regrets. For 35 years here in Arizona we’ve been busy you and me. We went back to school, built a career, developed a business, and more recently found me a new husband. I will miss caring about you and keeping you safe with my other jewelry in various special boxes like I have over four decades – next to silver and pearls, coral and costume. A POW/MIA bracelet treasured always and right at home wherever I was at the time.
You’ve always been there for me, smiling back in your own way each morning when I opened my jewelry box looking for the right earrings. Saying goodbye to you is not easy. It’s like any other break-up, sad and difficult, but meant to be. Today is an opportunity for both of us to move on and for me to do the right thing.
In the beginning I wore you proudly each day; we went everywhere together. The days went on in to years. You were a part of me and me you. Feeling akin to my bracelet because I knew you were from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan too and about my age, I often wondered what growing up was like for you. Maybe you had a girl back home, played high school football – I was a cheerleader you know. Maybe you joined the army to serve your country and God before Uncle Sam could draft you for a war I never fully understood.
Who were you M/Sgt. Marshall Kipina – missing in action (MIA) 7-14-66? Were you a guy who listened to The Rolling Stones while on patrol in Vietnam or were you more of a Bob Dylan kind of guy? Me, I loved the Beatles. Who were you M/Sgt. Marshall Kipina? I think I know you, you were a little like me.
I married young and soon after that moved to Chicago with my husband. For our first anniversary we decided to have a portrait done for our families and our new house. Of course I was taking you along, just as I always did. I vowed to do so from the day I found you in Detroit. Until the war was over and everyone was home, we would be one.
But then the insisting started; my husband telling me to leave you behind that day. How could he have asked such a thing? He was with me in when I found you at the Michigan MIA/POW bracelet rally circa 1970. He supported my decision to take you home. How could I have known my husband’s best friend from high school was killed in Vietnam; he did not disclose any of that story to me until years after our divorce.
My husband had been in ROTC and officer training in college, but failed his physical and did not qualify to serve. That old football injury from high school played havoc in his life then and for all the years I have known him, matching the torment of his friend’s death. But I know now he wanted to go too.
Why did he ask me to do something that was impossible for me to do – remove my bracelet? How could he put aside this war we grew up with just for a camera shot when he carried the secret of his friend’s death from me?
When we arrived at the photographer’s studio I still had you with me. The ranting started again. I was feeling as if I was being robbed and taken advantage of because I was young and so emotional about the war and the deaths of young men over there. My husband was challenging me.
The photographer spotted you immediately, glistening in the bright lights of the studio. The silvery metal with your name and ”lost” date clearly engraved for all to see. I gently swung my arm, still trying to hold you close to me as I often did; holding strong to my convictions about loyalty to missing soldiers.
“The photo shoot takes only a half-hour, you can put it back on later” was echoed by the photographer. How could either of them ask such a thing of me? Having been faithful to you now for almost three years, I was committed to the end of the war, to all the troops coming home; especially to the POW/MIA’s. The bracelet had to stay and our relationship for the next 40 years would be solidified.
The battle continued, but I held strong. Our first anniversary photo taken that chilly fall day in Chicago included you on my right wrist, placed lightly near my knee in the front of the photo. My POW/MIA bracelet was proudly displayed to all who visited our home. The message in the portrait was “someone else cares about those missing soldiers” and so the bracelet survived. It was never me against them because I had you along and believed survival was possible for you.
It’s time to say good bye now, although hard for me, I know it in my heart it is best. God’s plan is to send you back to your family in Calumet, Michigan; to your brother who is waiting for you. My neighbor being from Calumet and knowing your family when we’re 2500 miles from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is God’s miracle work. My research leads me eventually to the door of my 89 year old neighbor who helped me with this final connection. No one could make that up or write a happier ending for this story.
God wants me to know more about you from your brother so I have closure too. Putting you to rest now at home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has been a long time coming for you and your family. The war is still real to those of us who have waited and wondered. We know POW/MIA’s are still over there. We have not forgotten.
Many things have changed for all of us; life here is very different now. Some memories you and I shared I will keep forever such as the Memorial Day celebration here in Old Town Scottsdale when they honored the new veteran’s memorial statue by the library. I polished you up nicely that day and wore you one more time. I was a proud American. You did not die in vain; this truth is shown to me often. Sending you home to Calumet gives the war some purpose. Let the healing begin and closure take place. Farewell my friend. May many others find their way home too.