His initials were JJP, and I knew absolutely nothing about him or Vietnam.
It was the mid-1960s, and getting close to the holidays.
My nose was supposedly buried in a schoolbook, but once in a while I would raise my sights and look at the news, or spend a dreamy day on a California beach.
The war was in full swing; it had already blasted away for eight of its 18 years, and protesters were everywhere.
I’m not much for fighting, or politics, but my mailbox that morning brought me a small surprise.
It was a commercial advertising envelope, something like those we receive from the Canadian Cancer Society or the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
But this was different — an invitation to become personally involved in support of someone who might be suffering. Happy that it someone else and not me, I read on.
For $4 I could support a captured soldier and receive a bracelet marked either MIA or POW (missing in action or prisoner of war).
So I did. In a few weeks it came in the mail — small, made of cheap metal, with a name inscribed on it.
It simply said John J Pitchford, and carried a date, Dec. 20, 1965 — the date his world caved in.
Now, this was a pickle! Who was this fellow anyway? I knew nothing of him, and the Internet had scarcely been dreamt of.
How is a person supposed to help someone they don’t know, have no access to, and will likely never meet?
There was no address for his family, so I decided all I could do was pray.
I wondered if those prayers went anywhere, or did any good, but pray I did, until many years later I lost the crumpled metal in a move. And all was forgotten.
More years passed. While seeking an army entrance test for one of my sons, the two of us walked into a serviceman’s office in Mississippi.
The receptionist had the same last name as the one I had worn on my arm for years. Feeling a bit stupid, I asked if she knew someone named John Joseph Pitchford. Her eyes grew large, she asked how I knew that name, and the story tumbled out.
Colonel J.J. Pitchford had been captured and suffered for years in POW camps, but returned to an exuberant welcome from his family and friends in Pensacola, Florida, and a highway named after him.
I had driven on it, and never noticed.
Never met him. Never knew him. Never even saw a picture of him.
Still haven’t. But in spite of all those years of impossibilities, he came home. Safe. Whole.
That war is long over, but there are others. Folded hands are a good start, but perhaps we could unfold them for needy ones we haven’t even met.
And if there isn’t someone to pray for, (JJP has gone to his rest), a cold Williams Lake is still here.
Because the needs last far beyond December, even without a bracelet.
Rita Corbett is a freelance columnist with the Tribune/Weekend Advisor (LOL@wltribune.com.)