By Laura Cassels, Florida Phoenix
Nearly 60,000 Americans, including 1,954 Floridians named here, were killed in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the 1950s, 1960s,and 1970s during the Vietnam War.
Another 2,338, including 54 Floridians, are still listed as missing in action, according to national military archives.
Through 1976, nearly 5 million Americans bought bracelets bearing the names of servicemen and servicewomen who were taken prisoner or missing in action, according to the National League of POW-MIA Families. The bracelet campaign and its proceeds raised national awareness about POWs and MIAs and provided assistance to their families.
This year, Vietnam veterans in North Florida want to build, at their expense, a monument on state property to the POW-MIA bracelet campaign and the troops it held in remembrance.
Steve Winn, governmental affairs consultant with Big Bend Chapter 96 of Vietnam Veterans of America, told a Senate committee Thursday that he has worn two of the bracelets over the years.
One bore the name of Capt. Ronald Bliss, a POW who ultimately returned home, and another the name of Lt. Jonathan Barnhart, who went missing in 1972. Barnhart’s remains were found in 1988, long after the Vietnam War ended, Winn said.
The vets of Chapter 96 raised the money for the POW-MIA bracelet monument and are seeking authorization to erect it near the Florida Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial across the street from the Florida Capitol.
“It’s an expression of gratitude and remembrance of the prisoners of war and missing in action, soldiers that came back and those that never came back from the conflict,” Winn told members of the Senate Rules Committee. “My passion goes deep for those who are serving and those who have served.”
The Senate Military Affairs and Rules committees have approved the requested legislation, sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, a Republican representing parts of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Polk counties. Burgess said he is among the millions who have worn — and some still wear — POW-MIA bracelets.
The monument is expected to be a 7-foot-tall replica of a POW-MIA bracelet, inspired by such a replica at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile.
An estimated 1.3 million people were killed during the Vietnam War, approximately half of them Vietnamese civilians, according to military scholar Guenther Lewey, author of America in Vietnam.
That war was the last in which Americans were drafted involuntarily to fight.