"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Vietnam POW Bracelets and American Exceptionalism

This is a post about education the teachers can't teach from a book. It's about the lessons learned about the courage and strength of a Vietnam POW, and a civilian determined not to forget a particular soldier.

This story caught my eye in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about a man wearing a bracelet since 1972 with the name of a MIA/POW:


CW Mustone got the bracelet when he was in high school, and it was inscribed with the name of a serviceman and the date he went missing: Capt James Steadman 11-26-71. Steadman was a pilot from Colorado who never returned from his mission. Mustone explained, "The deal was that you were supposed to wear it until they found them and brought them home".

I had a similar bracelet in high school and it was inscribed Cmdr Cole Black 06-21-66. Commander Black was a pilot of an F8E that was shot down just north of Hanoi. He had the unfortunate experience of being a POW in the Hanoi Hilton and was not released until 1973. I remember reading his name in the Florida Times-Union as one of the prisoners released. It actually was a bit stunning to see his name in the paper as being released; for the first time I was able to connect the name on the bracelet with a real person.

What a joyful time it was when I could remove my bracelet and retire it forever! That was long before the days of the Internet and being able to find someone at the touch of a button. I've wondered through the years what happened to Commander Black since his release and the Post Dispatch article brought back those memories of Vietnam and the POW bracelets.

I googled Commander Black's name and this was the first site listed:


This site contains Commander Black's military history and his own accounting of his seven year imprisonment as a POW. It also tells of his death in 2007 in a plane crash as he was returning from speaking at a high school about his POW experiences. There are testimonies from people who knew him, and from their descriptions, his photos, and his own words, I know I was honored to have worn a bracelet with his name.

The history lesson Commander Cole wrote about his imprisonment and subsequent release is invaluable for students: the bravery of a young soldier, the will to survive even in the most difficult of circumstances, and the gratefulness he felt when he came back to the United States. These are the lessons that can't be mandated or formulated or tested.

Commander Black, Captain James Steadman, CW Mustone and I have been connected by bracelets, prayers, hope, and loss. But really, we are all connected by our shared American values. THAT is the history we should be teaching. THAT is the exceptionalism of America.


  1. I greatly appreciate this post. I am a manager of a public television station in Salt Lake City. We are completing a three-part oral history documentary project on Utah citizens who served in Vietnam. Part of the process includes talking with returned POWs...and several reference the gratitude they had/have for those who wore bracelets to remember them during captivity. I wore Commander Cole Black's bracelet during my college years. When he returned safely, I felt great relief. Thoughts of Cmmdr. Black came back to me as my crews worked on preserving the story of those veterans who served in Vietnam. Thanks for reconnecting me to a "man I never knew, and can never forget."

  2. Thank you so much for this comment. It brought tears to my eyes. I would love to promote your documentary when you have finished. I still think of these vets as young men in their late teens and early 20s. God Bless them all and bless you for documenting their stories.


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