It was the early 1970s. The Vietnam War raged on, claiming tens of thousands of American lives and tugging at the nation’s psyche. At Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, Virginia, Pamela Tollberg was dating Robert Snow.
The war so dominated the culture that Pamela’s boyfriend gave her a POW/MIA bracelet.
“It happened to be the first gift he gave me,” she said when she called last week from Manassas.
She is now Pamela Snow, a 58-year-old retired teacher. And yes, she married that high school boyfriend. They are now downsizing, which is how she came across the silvery bracelet she wore as a teenager.
After a recent visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the somber site in Washington, D.C., known simply as “The Wall,” Snow used Google to look up the name on her bracelet. It’s engraved with: “Maj. Wesley Schierman 8-28-65.”
What she found, in a Herald story, was that Schierman died in Everett on Jan. 4, 2014. A retired Northwest Airlines pilot, he was 78 years old.
From the Herald article, published Jan. 8, 2014, Snow learned that Air Force Maj. Schierman was a 30-year-old husband and father when he was shot down in his F-105 fighter-bomber about 100 miles west of Hanoi in North Vietnam.
It was Aug. 28, 1965, and he was on his 37th combat mission. That day began nearly eight years of hellish captivity. He was one of more than 500 prisoners of war in North Vietnam. In 1999, he told The Herald that he experienced torture and his weight dropped to under 100 pounds.
It was a joyous day Feb. 12, 1973, when Schierman and other POWs were freed.
His son, Steve Schierman, 54, said Friday that his father was listed as missing in action until 1971. “We didn’t even know he was alive,” said Steve Schierman, an Alaska Airlines pilot who lives in Puyallup.
Steve Schierman was too young to have many memories when his father went to war. He was almost 11 when his dad was freed. He will never forget it. With his mother and sister, Sandra, they lived in Spokane at the time.
“We flew down to Travis Air Force Base on a C-141 from McChord. We had talked to him prior to that when he hit the Philippines. We flew to Travis and spent two weeks with him there,” Steve Schierman said.
A younger sister, Stacy Schierman, was born after Wesley Schierman was freed. She is a pilot for SkyWest Airlines.
Steve Schierman said his father sometimes talked about his time as a captive. Although his dad was tortured and spent 17 months in solitary confinement, “he had a lot of humor,” the Puyallup man said. “He would forget the bad and remember the good.”
I contacted the Schiermans to let them know about Snow’s bracelet and how to contact her. She hopes to give it to the family. “I wore this bracelet nonstop for years and years,” Snow said.
Across the country, millions of Americans wore the bracelets, which were inscribed with a name, rank and date of loss. The idea for the POW/MIA bracelets was conceived by several California college students. “On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1970, we officially kicked off the bracelet program,” wrote Carol Bates Brown, one of the founders, in a history of the bracelets on the Vietnam memorial website.
They were sold for $2.50 to $3 through a Los Angeles student group called VIVA (Voices in Vital America). In all, more than 5 million bracelets were distributed.
“Everybody wore them. I can’t remember when I stopped,” Snow said. She had a second bracelet with the name of Bruce Seeber, captured in North Vietnam on Oct. 5, 1965. Now a retired Air Force colonel, Seeber lives in Louisiana. Snow said she has been in touch with Seeber via Facebook.
At 79, Wesley Schierman’s widow still lives in the home they shared near Everett’s Silver Lake.
Faye Schierman said Friday that people still send her bracelets with her husband’s name. “I received one about three weeks ago,” she said.
Regardless of how Americans felt about the politics of war in Vietnam, “those who signed on that dotted line to protect their country were putting their life on the line,” Faye Schierman said.
Some have called to tell her they don’t want to part with a bracelet that meant so much.
“It is an emotional thing,” Faye Schierman said. “After all these years, people still feel the effects of the war. Sometimes they call and we just cry.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.