The History of the POW/MIA Bracelet . . .

. . . and SGT. Kenneth Lancaster.

First a little history

The POW/MIA Bracelet is a nickel-plated or copper bracelet engraved with the rank, name and date the soldier was missing in action or became a prisoner of war.

The one I picked out is nickel-plated and engraved with the name Sgt. Kenneth Lancaster 1-3-69 and it was purchased in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan for $2.50 in 1970. I wear it from Memorial Day to Veterans’ Day.

Carol Bates Brown 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 her as honorary co-chairmen.

The idea for the bracelets was started by a fellow college student, Kay Hunter, and her, as a way to remember American prisoners of war suffering in captivity in Southeast Asia. They 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.

In late 1969 television personality Bob Dornan (who several years later was elected to the US Congress) ,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.

Ten sample bracelets were made carrying only name, rank and date of loss. Armed with the sample bracelets, they set out to find someone who would donate money to make bracelets for distribution to college students. It had not yet occurred to them that adults would want to wear the things, as the nickel-plated bracelets weren’t very attractive.

Several approaches to Ross Perot were rebuffed, to include a proposal that he loan them $10,000 at 10% interest. Including a visit to Howard Hughes’ senior aides in Las Vegas, who were sympathetic but not willing to help fund the project.

Although the initial bracelets were going to cost about 75 cents to make, they were unsure about how much they should ask people to donate to receive a bracelet. In 1970, a student admission to the local movie theater was $2.50. It was decided this seemed like a fair price to ask from a student for one of the nickel-plated bracelets. Copper ones were made for adults who believed they helped their “tennis elbow.” The cost for the copper bracelets was $3.00

Source:

POW-MIA Veterans’ Day, November 11, 1970, officially kicked off the bracelet program.

Public response quickly grew and eventually got to the point of receiving over 12,000 requests a day. In all, VIVA distributed nearly five million bracelets.

Sgt. Kenneth Lancaster

It is shameful that the United States Government only acknowledges the “possibility” that some of approximately 2,500 Americans are still missing, prisoners or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Since the end of the Vietnam War 21,000 reports documenting live American POW’s that remain captive in Southeast Asia have been received by the government.

Missing in Action since January 1968 Kenneth Lancaster* was 22 years old when he was lost, a Protestant from what my research can uncover; today he would be over 50 probably just getting over a mid-life crisis and looking forward to grandchildren. In August of 1996 I wrote the Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial who forwarded my letter to his family expressing my condolences and commitment to their missing relative. I requested and received a free rubbing of Kenneth’s name from panel 33 of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall. It also included a brief biography from POW/MIA Affairs Office.

      “SFC Kenneth R. Lancaster was a team leader assigned to Headquarters & Headquarters Company Long Range Reconnaissance Platoon of the 9th Infantry Division. On January 3, 1968, Lancaster’s LRRP team was being extracted by helicopter from a designated pickup point in Khan Hoa Province, South Vietnam, near the city of Duc My.

About one minute after takeoff, a member of the team saw SP4 Lancaster hanging onto the right skid of the aircraft as the aircraft continued to gain altitude. The pilot was informed and requested to land. When it became evident that the pilot was not able to land due to rough terrain, immediate efforts were made to lower a rope. However, before the rescue attempt could be made, Lancaster fell from the skid of the aircraft while the helicopter was at an altitude of 1000 to 1500 feet above the ground.

The area in which Lancaster fell had heavy vegetation and a triple canopy jungle, creating a slim possibility that the trees and heavy vegetation may have broken Lancaster’s fall to some degree. The area was searched that day and again on January 7 and January 8 by American and indigenous platoons without success

SFC Lancaster is currently listed on the rolls of the Department of Defense as MISSING IN ACTION, PRESUMPTIVE FINDING OF DEATH.”

The young Army Sergeant and his team had just successfully completed their operation of a “Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol” (LRRP). Their mission was to locate, identify and report on Viet Cong activity. Their designated pick up point was 7 miles south-southwest of Duc My, 11 miles east-southeast of Ninh Hoa and 19 miles northwest of Nha Trang, an area with a reputation as a breeding ground of communist activity.

Many witnesses believe the enemy knew whether Lancaster was alive or dead. The area he fell into at the time was under heavy patrol by the enemy preventing attempts to carry out a thorough search and no one was able to pinpoint the precise location where Lancaster fell. Task Force Omega and other organizations relate that the Vietnamese refute any information that has been uncovered.

Someone somewhere has to know what happened and while it would be nothing short of a miracle that Kenneth survived falling a thousand feet it’s demoralizing to think that he possibly survived only to realize one thing that he was never prepared for; to be forsaken to the enemy.

Like me, many others continue to search for the truth and some sort of closure about what happened to Kenneth and the many who suffered a similar fate:

      December 29, 1998

Great web site Bob. Keep up the good work. I am a Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran who served with H/2/7 1st Marine Division from March 1967-April 1968. I am searching for anyone who new my cousin Spec 4. KENNETH R. LANCASTER who became MIA on 3 January 1968 in Khanh Hoa Province, II CTZ, RVN. This incident occurred during a training exercise conducted by MACV Recondo School. Any and all information is greatly appreciated.

Steve
Mt. Airy, Maryland

 


November 30, 1998

From: DixiJaz

Subject: Kenneth Lancaster

I have been wearing a POW/MIA bracelet for close to fifteen years now. The name is almost illegible. I received it as a gift from a former POW. The name on the bracelet is Kenneth R. Lancaster. As of my last search, he was still reported as missing. This is just a note to his family to let them know that they are not the only ones to remember him, though I never met him. If you wish to respond email me.

 


 

Date of post unknown:

      I’m trying to locate anyone who knew SP4 Kenneth R Lancaster CoE 50th lrrp lost 01-03-68 in Kahnh Hoa Provence, ll Corp. He was missing from an extraction after a fire fight and was accompanied by Specialist Kozarch. I was a long time school friend of Kennys and still speak to his family. Please forward ANY information and/or links to my attention. Thank all in advance and thank you all for all that you have done.

Bob



Saturday October 3, 1998

      From: Jan

 

      Subject: SGT KENNETH LANCASTER

I have a bracelet that I wore for many years. I never did hear and never have found out the status of the man whose name is on my bracelet. You see I have always had a close attachment to this man because I am a surviving widow to that terrible time in history. My husband lost his life in January at a very young age of 21 leaving behind myself and two beautiful young children a son and a daughter. His name was SGT VICTOR EDWARD ANDERSON.

My son told me about this web site. I decided that I would try to find out something on SGT KENNETH LANCASTER missing 1-03-68. I would like to know if he was ever found alive or otherwise. If he has a family. If his children had to go thru their lives with the emptiness my children always had to face not ever knowing their father.

My son was 3 and my daughter was 1 when they last saw him. This has always tore at my heart to know the emptiness they have felt. Time can heal but all the time in the world never removes the scars – they may fade but they are always visible. anyway I would like any information that anyone may have and thank you.

 


 

Sunday October 04, 1998
From: Jan
Subject: SGT KENNETH LANCASTER

I want to thank you for the information you have sent to me and for the fast response. I sit here reading your letter and contemplating my feelings as the tears stream down my face. This man met whatever fate he faced the same month as my husband 2 years later. I guess I have had and worn his bracelet longer than I was married to my husband. Somehow it feels as tho I to was married to him in some strange way. At the age of 20 and being left with 2 small children to raise was a very frightening thing. Now 32 years later I some how feel a little bit frightened at finding out what happened to a man I have felt so strongly attached to for so long. I used to try to put a face to the name the face of a very young man. Now I find this very young man was only 5 years younger than myself and I see a much older face with much suffering and pain.

I pray for his family his wife and children if he had any as well as his parents and brothers or sisters. My heart aches for their unknowing. I have thanked God so very many times for the fact the my husband’s body was returned to us intact that we were able to view him and know beyond doubt he was really in the casket that was returned to us.

War is such a terrible thing and it touches so many lives and leaves so many hurts and pain. As I said before, time does help. The scars never leave us and the wounds can open unexpectedly. I would love to hear from any of Kenneths family if they choose to contact me, but in the same sense I can definitely respect their privacy. Again, thank you for your information even if it was not the word I had so hoped to hear. God bless you people for all your compassion and love and prayers.

Janet
Clintom,Utah



No Greater Love:

Posted for: KENNETH RAY LANCASTER:

To Kenneth’s Family,

I knew him in High School and he was a good man.I was spared a VN destiny like Kennny’s, as were many of our friends. I pray I can walk according to God’s Word, worthy of friends who gave the ultimate sacrifice like Kenny! JOHN 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Salute in YAHSHUA,
Woody Marvel

Posted By: William E.
Tuesday, June 06, 2000
Relationship: We were high school classmates

 


Recondo

Posted for: KENNETH RAY LANCASTER:

Kenneth gave it all while training to be a LRRP. His courage and determination speak well oif him!

Posted By: Hilan
Friday, December 29, 2000
Relationship: We served together

 



It is our duty to remember.

Posted for: KENNETH RAY LANCASTER:

As one of the 1046 Marylanders who made the ultimate sacrifice we are honored to post your photograph. Operation Remember will continue until we have recovered the photos of all our fallen brothers from the State of Maryland.

Visit www.vva451.org and click on the Operation Remember banner for more details about this project of remembrance.
Jim Gerity
Chairperson
Operation Remember

Baltimore, Chapter 451
www.vva451.org
Saturday, January 25, 2003

 


 

Now I know his friends and family call him Kenny. He was born on a summer day in 1946 in Washington DC, grew up in Silver Springs, Maryland. Maybe Kenny, cousin Steve and best friend Bob stood laughing in a doorway talking about girls or fished thigh deep in water idly skipping stones across the water, homemade poles in hand.

I purchased at a strip mall in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan for the price of a movie ticket, two dollar and fifty cents, I too wonder about his life and fate; feel as if I have shared an intimate connection with this man longer than my husband. I still wear Kenny’s bracelet from Memorial Day to Veterans’ Day, it’s nickel-plated; engraved with his name and rank; marking the day he underwent that horrifying plummet into the jungles below.

If Kenny is found alive or his remains are recovered and returned to American soil the bracelet will be engraved with a star to symbolize he has come home and continue to be worn until all POW/MIAs have returned. His family has never contacted me and that’s okay, it must be very hard for them. But what I do know about him is that he is a hero whose life may have ended prematurely, but his memory should outlive us all.

You can find Kenneth Ray Lancaster honored on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Panel 33E, Row 29.

* You may view a picture of Kenny at the first URL listed under Sources

Sources:

LANCASTER, KENNETH RAY:
www.taskforceomegainc.org/L005.htm

LETTERS AND NOTES FROM THOSE THAT WEAR THE BRACELETS:
http://www.pownetwork.org/tletter1.htm

9th Infantry Division Guestbook Archive #13:
www.oldreliable.org/archives/gbook13.html

The Veteran Profile, The Virtual Wall:
http://www.thevirtualwall.org/search/search_name_report.asp?wall_id_no=29472&q=44163

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6 Comments
  1. I also wore Kenneth Lancaster’s POW/MIA bracelet for years. I stopped wearing it long ago, but I still think about him now and then. On this Memorial Day 2010, I would like to thank Kenneth for his service and his sacrifice, and to let his family know that he is still remembered. 

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  2. That is so wonderful to know Bob. I lawys have wondered who else might have had his braclet. Thank you.

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  3. If anyone has a Kenneth Lancaster bracelet they would be willing to part with please contact me.  I would be willing to reasonably compensate you or purchase you a bracelet for another soldier.  I am looking to replace a lost bracelet for a family member, any help tracking one down would be appreciated.  Regards, Jake

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    • Incidentally, the probably best known character to wear Kenneth’s bracelet was Thomas S. Magnum, a.k.a. Magnum, p.i., between 1982 and 1987. 

      If you still want to replace yours, this site might help:

      http://www.memorialbracelets.com/names.php?eventID

      Regards, Ernst

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    • If you are still looking for a bracelet for a family member, please reply via my email address.  I just retired and while cleaning out an old box I found my POW bracelet with Sgt. Kenneith Lancaster located.  When I started looking to see if there was any update, I found this site.ThanksLaRay Van MeterAir Force Brat and former Air Force wife

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  4. Was cleaning out closets because of a divorce and was so hoping I would find my little shoebox with childhood memories and of course, my 2 POW/MIA bracelets. Found it today and it brought back a flood of thoughts and memories. I definitely will be researching on the two men that I have on my bracelets.

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