If you’re American and old enough to remember the Vietnam War, there’s a good chance you have a POW bracelet somewhere in your stash of possessions. I stumbled across mine a couple of months ago while I was looking for something else. Since it adorned my wrist for years (as the wear testified), I remembered the name and date well: Lt. Col. Newk Grubb, 1-26-66.
I always connected Lt. Col. Grubb to my father. Not surprising, I guess, since my father served in Vietnam the year after he was captured–and the date on the bracelet happened to be my dad’s birthday.
I have peculiar recollections of the Vietnam War, compared to most. I remember crossing the days off the calendar until my dad came home. I remember going to Newark Airport in my pajamas to greet him upon his arrival–and wondering who that strange man kissing my mom was. I remember living in an apartment filled to the ceiling with boxes of soap collected for Vietnamese orphans. (Local townsfolk had kindly gathered it, forgetting that someone had to pay to ship it–which my Nana eventually did). I remember spending Christmas day roller-skating in the Pentagon when my dad was duty officer. And I remember my father having to go to Dover to identify my cousin, Dominic Scatuorchio, who was shot down in a helicopter in 1970.
I also sadly flashed back to the days at the end of the conflict when long lists of servicemen appeared in “The Washington Post.” In the optimism of my youth, I was sure that “my” POW was coming home to his family. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Lt. Col. Newk Grubb
As I let the memories wash over me, it occurred to me that I could possibly learn more about Newk. Was that his real name, for instance? I went to the closest computer. Within minutes, I learned that his full name was Wilmer Newlin Grubb and that early indications were that he would be one of the survivors. Remarkably, it’s even possible to see a photo of him in captivity.
I continued to surf and found remembrances of him scattered around the Internet– a recollection from a fellow who grew up with himÂ in Aldan, Pennsylvania, and a series of messages, some left by others who also wore his bracelet.
Evelyn Fowler Grubb
But I quickly discovered something that saddened me even more. Newk’s widow, Evelyn Fowler Grubb had recently passed away. A remarkable woman, she was apparently one of the founders of the National League of POW/MIA Families, and as its national coordinator in 1971-72, she played a part in creating the league’s “You Are Not Forgotten” black-and-white flag.
I felt terrible that I had taken this long to look into the story of Lt. Col. Newk Grubb and missed my chance to communicate with his amazing widow. This is especially ironic, given that I work with the U.S. Army’s Repatriation project, locating families of those still unaccounted for from Korea, Southeast Asia, and WWII. I told my husband about this discovery, and in one of those strange coincidences life hands us, he came to me later that same day with the May/June 2006 issue of “The PennStater,” which featured an obituary for Evelyn Grubb on page sixty-six. Apparently, both she and her husband had attended Penn State, as did my husband. Fortunately, Evelyn had shared her experiences with author Carol Jose, so I should be able to read about the family in an upcoming book, which will probably be called “You Are Not Forgotten.”
Get Out Your POW Bracelet Now
What can you do? Don’t waste another day. With Memorial Day approaching, what better time to dig through your belongings and find your POW bracelet. Then you can research your serviceman on the Internet. You can leave a remembrance for him on The Virtual Wall. You can even see if someone in his family is looking for his bracelets at the POW/MIA Bracelet Information Exchange–although you’ll want to be sure to that you’re giving the bracelet to a genuine family member. Sad to say, there are bracelets for sale on eBay and elsewhere, so use your genealogical sleuthing skills to make sure yours is going to someone who will truly appreciate it. And finally, take a few minutes on Memorial Day to reflect on the sacrifices of “your” serviceman, his family, and those in your own family who have served their country.
Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, coauthor (with Ann Turner) of Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree (as well as In Search of Our Ancestors, Honoring Our Ancestors, and They Came to America), can be contacted through www.megansrootsworld.blogspot.com/, www.genetealogy.com, and www.honoringourancestors.com.
Upcoming Events Where Megan Will Be Speaking
- Roots in the Boot
(July 15, 2006, Pittsburgh, PA)