KIMBERLY — A little bit of spring cleaning brought back some memories and a reminder of what military veterans have done for us.
Kathy Verstegen was 10 or 12 years old when her dad took her to a military recruiter’s office where they were selling POW bracelets for $2 apiece. She recently found her bracelet while cleaning and wondered what had happened to the person whose name was stamped on it. She tracked him down and now shares her story so others can remember those tension-filled days around the Vietnam War and the service of veterans.
Her father, John Meyer, was a Marine veteran. “I think that was why it was so important to him that we understand about the people who were missing,” she said. She and other family members got bracelets bearing the name, rank and date of capture of a prisoner of war. The Vietnam War lasted from 1954 to 1975.
“I wore my bracelet every day when I was young,” Verstegen said. “Then, as time goes on and these things happen, I put it in a box and life went on.” Her mother gave her the box at some point. She took it home and put it in her closet. “It was one of those boxes filled with all the important things in a teen’s life.”
Verstegen, who is a nurse with the Kimberly Area School District, found the box shortly after area veterans set up a display at the school with items from their time of service. “I chatted with the veterans just a week before I found the bracelet, so when I found it, I was motivated to find the man whose name was on it to see if he was still living.”
The name on the bracelet was Maj. Richard Vogel, captured on May 22, 1967. Verstegen and her husband, Roy, an IT specialist for the Diocese of Green Bay, searched the internet for anything on Vogel. She found that he is still living and has a family. “It was pretty neat,” she said. Her husband found an address for Vogel in Florida, and Verstegen contacted him.
She learned that Vogel was from Ohio, now retired in Florida. “I sent him a letter asking if he was the person on my bracelet. I said I’ll send you the bracelet.”
Three weeks later, she received an email from Vogel. “He was thankful that I had thought about him over the years,” she said.
He wrote: “Thank you for asking about the bracelet. I’ve had a lot of people ask about them over the years. It has been 50 years this month when I was shot down and captured. Lots of memories are still pretty clear, but life has been good to me since I was released in March 1973. My wife and I have been married 62 years. Four children have families of their own and we have three great-grandchildren. Don’t send the bracelet back. The important thing is you wore it for us. Thanks again for your interest. Dick Vogel.”
Verstegen, who herself is married with three children and five grandchildren, recalled those days in the mid-1970s when people were watching daily TV news programs showing the war and the veterans returning home, as well as the massive anti-war protests going on all over the country. When the war ended, “I watched and thought it would be a celebration as the men were coming home. But there weren’t celebrations. I think it is important to think about this. When our soldiers came back (from Vietnam), they were not revered; there was no love, support or outreach for them. Maybe that’s why they don’t want to talk about their experiences. No one gave them the ‘We appreciate you, thank you’ speech.
“I’m glad I had the opportunity to reach out to this person and to tell others about it. I’m hearing that others remember the bracelets they had.”
Verstegen said she’s honored that Vogel responded to her letter, and 50 years after his capture, he is still in her prayers.