To My Hero I Never Met

September 16, 2022, is National POW/MIA Remembrance Day.

It was the mid sixties. I was in high school and many of my friends were being drafted. It was terrifying! We were kids, those drafted were kids, and we were dealing with death and atrocities right in our immediate circles. Every day, the newspapers were filled with the names of those who were missing or deceased. I still have the faces of the friends that I lost burned into my memory.  

Our country had soldiers being held captive by the North Vietnamese. Their families could only imagine the treatment these young Americans were experiencing. There were anti-war protests everywhere but, for me, these prisoners seemed lost amid all the marches.  

I wish I could remember how a program came to my high school, Bartram High, in Philadelphia, that brought the horrors of the war home. We were able to select and wear bracelets with the name of a a U.S. captive’s name carved into it. Wearing these bracelets reminded us to pray for these soldiers and prisoners of war every single day. 
I received Major Jon Reynolds´ bracelet.  He was one of the POWs captured on film on July 6, 1966, as he was force-marched in prison pajamas through the streets of Hanoi in what came to be known as the “Hanoi March.” And he was one of 65 prisoners held at the Son Tay prison camp outside Hanoi for two years. Unfortunately, Major Reynolds and the group of prisoners held at the compound were moved four months before the raid that would have led to his rescue. 

This bracelet allowed me to feel connected to Major Reynolds, a soldier and prisoner of war. I could focus all my prayers on him. I engaged every heavenly saint and of course, God, and prayed for my POW every single day.

Google Search didn’t exist in the 60’s, but being resourceful, I found that his parents lived in nearby in Bala Cynwyd.  Using just telephone books the size of ten bibles, I narrowed it down and wrote to them, explaining that I was wearing their son’s bracelet and praying for him every single day.  

It gets better! They wrote back and sent me the photo above. They were touched and promised to let me know when he came home.  

He became even more real. He now had a face – a handsome one at that – a loving family and was no longer just a name stamped on a bracelet. I carried his photo, wore, or carried his bracelet and prayed for years.  

I got married, opened my first salon, and gave birth to two magnificent sons. Major Jon was always near, to remind me to pray for him, either on my wrist or in my handbag.   

I was living my dream life, as so many of us were, but the POW’s and Major Jon still weren’t back on U.S. soil. It was nearing seven-long years. This had to be beyond gut-wrenching for his family. I prayed for them as I prayed for him. I would look at my two sons and couldn’t fathom the pain his family was experiencing.  

I remember crying with joy the day I opened a letter from his parents that Major Jon returned home and was in good health. This was more than I could have imagined since many of my close friends and relatives were not as fortunate. The signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 had led to the release of almost 600 U.S. prisoners of war from North Vietnam. Major Reynolds was among the first POWs released on Feb. 12, 1973. 

Brigadier General Jon Reynolds (Public Domain – U.S. Air Force Official Photo)

Throughout the years, I would look him up and read about the rich life he was living, abroad and in the U.S., with his beautiful wife, Emilee and two children. One day, I read in an article that three weeks before his wedding to Emilee was when he was shot down. He was flying a mission in North Vietnam and was taken captive on November 28, 1965.  Their wedding didn’t take place until nine years later. Now that is true love.  

One day, just a few years ago, I found an address in Bethesda, where many articles referred to as his home, and decided to try to write him. I had no idea if my letter would actually reach him. However, I believe it is always a gift to know someone held you close to their heart and prayed hard for your health and happiness. 

To my surprise, the Major, now a Brigadier General, wrote back in beautiful cursive, and told me about his loving wife and wonderful children and grandchild, and thanked me for still thinking of all of them. I was so touched. This Brigadier General was such a thoughtful and chivalrous gentleman.                                                

Today, I opened my appointment book for September and saw that September 16th is POW/MIA Recognition Day and thought I would write him a hello and let him know I would celebrate this day with my Hero, someone I never met, and I was jolted when I saw his obituary.  
I am so sorry and so deeply saddened for his entire family. Brigadier General Jon Reynolds is a legend, carved deeply into the roots of this country. His fight, his contributions, his bravery, his sustenance, are all woven into the very threads of our flag that represents our freedom, along with the countless other POWs and soldiers that sacrificed their very lives for us and our country. When I see our Flag, I see all of them.  

My heart goes out to Brigadier General Jon Reynolds’ entire family. God Bless you all. You will remain in my prayers. 

Top photo: Rose Marie Beauchemin-Verzella