Woman memorializes fallen Vietnam soldier in every state
For Christmas in 1972, Kathy Strong received a Vietnam prisoner of war/missing soldier bracelet engraved with the name of Army Sgt. James Moreland, and she promised to wear it until the soldier returned home. Little did she know she'd be wearing the bracelet for 38 years.
Now that the bracelet rests with Moreland, Strong is placing a memorial brick in every state in remembrance of the soldier who was awarded a purple heart and silver star for gallantry in action. For Moreland's Oregon brick, she picked Canby's Vietnam Era Veterans' Memorial.
"It's just something I want to do to continue to make sure he's never forgotten," Strong said. "I just feel the longer time goes by, the more people tend to forget, and I want this case to be the opposite. The more time goes by, the more I want to make sure he's remembered."
Strong's bracelet was one of approximately 5 million bracelets of about 2,500 different names that were produced and distributed during the Vietnam War by the student organization Vital Voices in America. They were called POW/MIA bracelets, and recipients didn't know whether their solder was a prisoner of war or missing in action.
About a year after receiving her bracelet, Strong discovered Moreland was missing in action.
"I thought, oh no, now what do I do? But my promise was to wear it until he came home, not until everyone that he served with came home," Strong said. "So I just realized at that point that I was making a longer commitment to wear his bracelet."
When Strong had worn the bracelet for 35 years, her local newspaper wrote a story about her, which led Moreland's family to her.
"So the story made its way through the internet, and this gal in Arkansas saw it. She emailed it to his younger sister in Washington State, and Linda immediately called the newspaper and she's like, 'I have to meet this woman,'" Strong said.
The two talked on the phone that night for more than an hour, and shortly after, Strong flew up to Seattle to meet with Moreland's family. It was then that Strong learned Moreland's family believed he had died in Vietnam and had hopes that someday his remains would come home.
"On May 14, 2011, I flew to Birmingham, Alabama, and to fulfill my childhood promise, before the funeral, they opened up the casket, and since I wore the bracelet on my left wrist—he was in full-dress uniform—I put it on the left wrist of his uniform so that he could wear it in the same place I'd been wearing it all those years." -Kathy Strong
"Three years later on a Thursday night, Linda called me and she said, 'Brother's coming home. He's been found,'" Strong said. "On May 14, 2011, I flew to Birmingham, Alabama, and to fulfill my childhood promise, before the funeral, they opened up the casket, and since I wore the bracelet on my left wrist—he was in full-dress uniform—I put it on the left wrist of his uniform so that he could wear it in the same place I'd been wearing it all those years."
But for Strong, her commitment didn't end with Moreland's funeral. While she was visiting Mississippi, she bought a brick in Moreland's honor, and eventually made a decision to place a memorial brick in every state.
"I just feel like I wanted to do something," Strong said. "My promise was also to make sure he was never forgotten, and that didn't stop with returning the bracelet to him.
"I thought wouldn't it be neat to have a brick of him in all 50 states so that on Memorial Day, no matter where you lived in the United States, you could go somewhere to honor him," Strong added. "You wouldn't even have to leave your own state to honor him."
Strong flew to Oregon from her residence in Walnut Creek, California, and on Wednesday, July 18, she placed the 14th brick in Moreland's honor.
Pat Schauer of the Canby-Aurora Veterans of Foreign Wars was pleased Strong chose Canby's memorial.
"To choose ours over someone else's, to me, is a pretty big honor," Schauer said. "It's something to be proud of."
Strong will lay her 15th brick in South Dakota in September. She hopes to place at least three bricks a year until she has spread the memory of Moreland to every U.S. state.