Bracelet connects Sequim woman to POW's family
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The 76-year-old Sequim woman this week is anticipating a response from the daughter of Vincent Duncan Monroe, a Navy commander whose plane was shot down over North Vietnam on May 18, 1968.
Benson has had a Vietnam-era prisoner-of-war bracelet with Monroe's name on it since 1972.
“I intended to wear it until he came home or his body was released, at least, back to his family,” she said, although she had to stop wearing it after developing a serious rash.
Monroe's remains were buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia 10 years after he became a POW; Benson discovered he had died about a decade ago.
After a 30-year search for Monroe and his survivors, Benson recently discovered that his sister was living in Salt Lake City.
She phoned the woman Dec. 29 to say she wanted to send the ornamental band to the airman's family.
“I called the sister, and we talked, and we cried,” Benson said. “The sister felt it should go to his daughter.”
She added: “It was a wonderful conversation.”
Benson obtained the daughter's Florida address and sent her a letter Friday.
“It finally brought an end to over 30 years of searching for him,” she said.
Benson doesn't know whether the daughter will call, email, “snail mail” a letter or respond at all.
“She may need a day or so to absorb the information,” Benson said Tuesday.
Little by little, Benson pieced together bits of information about Monroe while struggling to locate his family.
At times, it felt like “hitting a dead wall,” she said.
According to the POW Network, Monroe was flying alongside Cmdr. Charlie N. James Jr. in Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 11 — based aboard the USS Kitty Hawk — when their aircraft was shot near Vinh Son.
A pilot in another plane radioed Monroe to confirm that he and James knew they had been hit.
“Yes, they did,” Benson said.
“That was the last contact they had with him.”
Two parachutes were spotted as the aircraft plummeted to the ground, but the search for Monroe and James was called off because of intense enemy fire and a failure to establish radio contact.
Later that day, a Hanoi radio station bragged about the capture of two American pilots, Benson said.
After the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, James and 590 other American prisoners of war were released by Vietnamese forces.
Monroe was not among them.
His status was changed Jan. 10, 1978 from prisoner of war to presumed killed in action.
Later that year, the late U.S. Rep. Gillespie “Sonny” Montgomery, D-Miss., led a delegation to Hanoi and returned with Monroe's remains Aug. 23, 1978, according to the Department of Defense POW/MIA Personnel Office.
Monroe was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of captain.
Benson was not aware Monroe had died until her sister found his name on a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Burlington some 10 years ago.
“He was a year-and-half older than me, the kind of guy I could have gone to school with,” said Benson, who keeps the etching of Monroe's name that her sister penciled from the wall.
Benson learned that Monroe was born in Oaklyn, N.J., on July 1, 1934, and was the oldest of three children.
“A true big-brother kind of thing,” she said.
Born herself in Sioux Falls, S.D., Benson moved to Bellevue after getting married and purchased the POW bracelet from a kiosk in a Bellevue mall.
“They were selling like hotcakes,” she said.
“Regardless of the opinion we think we had about Vietnam, there was plenty of support at home.”
Self-described as “very patriotic and proud,” Benson comes from a quintessential military family.
Her father served in World War I, her oldest brother was a Marine, and her youngest brother was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.
Benson has brothers-in-law and other extended family who have served for generations, including a great-niece who is now in Afghanistan.
“I have the flag in the window and out in the front,” said Benson, who has lived in Sequim for 20 years.
After having the POW bracelet for decades, Benson believes it is her duty to send it to Monroe's survivors.
“My husband wore his for quite awhile, but I kept mine on forever,” she said.
“I said to myself that I would wear it until he comes home.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: January 08. 2013 6:11PM