Lost and Found—Again
An MIA Bracelet Links Two Strangers
Diana Megargle, with her husband, reminisces about meeting Captain Chirichigno.
Photo Stan Godlewsk
During the Vietnam War, it was common for U.S. citizens to show their support for soldiers with the purchase of a Missing in Action (MIA) bracelet. They’d fill in their name and address, pay about $2.50 and then wait for a bracelet, with a randomly selected soldier’s name and date he’d gone missing, to arrive in the mail.
Diane Megargle was 24 years old and living in Berkley, California, at that time, where “a revolution” was going on in her town: war activism everywhere. She bought one of the bracelets to show her appreciation for the soldiers; it seemed a simple way to help raise awareness about those who were missing. She filled out the request form and received a bracelet for a man named Captain Luis Chirichigno. He had been flying a helicopter with B Troop, 7th Squadron, 17th Calvary when it was shot down during a reconnaissance mission and he was subsequently taken prisoner on November 2, 1969. Megargle wore the bracelet faithfully for a few years, but then retired it to a drawer when she moved to Fairfield in 1977, assuming that she would never be able to return it to the soldier whose name was on the metal band, as was the custom of the campaign.
The bracelet sat in a drawer for forty years, until last year when Megargle found a reason to dig it out again. She and her husband, Craig, were volunteering at a tour of a replica of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial that had arrived in Bridgeport that May 2017, through an organization called Port 5 Naval Veteran’s Association. When her shift was over, Megargle decided to look for
Chirichigno’s name on the memorial wall. “I still had the bracelet,” she says. “I always knew right where it was at home.” When she couldn’t find his name, she wondered if he’d made it back and if he was still alive. So, with some help from Google, a journalist who had written an article about Chirichigno, and a nagging curiosity, Megargle finally obtained his phone number in Naples, Florida. “I made Craig call him,” she adds, “because I was afraid I would be too emotional if I called.” On the phone, Craig told the soldier that Diane had his bracelet and wanted to return it to him. And shortly after that conversation the Megargles started planning a trip to Naples to meet Captain Chirichigno.
At Chirichigno’s home, fighting back tears, Megargle handed him the bracelet. They hugged, and then sat down to get acquainted. That day, the Megargles learned about his experiences as a prisoner of war. After being shot down and taken prisoner, Chirichigno was held captive for three and a half years and, for one of those years, was confined to a small bamboo cage on his back with his feet in stocks. The stories that he shared included some treacherous conditions that the prisoners had to endure—the rat that he befriended while in the cage, his walk up the Ho Chi Minh Trail and his time at the “Hanoi Hilton,” a POW camp where pilots, especially, were interrogated, tortured, and immersed in propaganda about the benefits of communism. “Some of the pilots told Luis that there were people in the U.S. who were wearing his name on bracelets, so he felt that he was not forgotten,” says Megargle. She also described him as “very soft spoken and calm, sitting with his wife by his side,” which seemed remarkable given all he’d been through, as was his ability to return to a normal civilian life once he’d been released. In 1973, the U.S. Air Force arrived and sent him home on a C-141 transport plane. Mergargle mentioned that “Luis didn’t believe it was really going to happen. They’d been ‘teased’ with a release before.’ But when an officer got him off the bus and escorted him to the plane, that was when he broke down and cried.”
It’s been years since Chirichigno was released, so technically he’s not missing anymore. And yet, how wonderful to be found again by a stranger who kept his bracelet in a drawer for decades. Finally, that bracelet made its way home too.
The MIA Bracelet Campaign
The MIA POW bracelet campaign was first conceived by two Los Angeles college students to remember American POWs in Vietnam. In 1969 their student-based organization was introduced to some wives of missing pilots, who thought that the girls might be able to help raise awareness for those missing. TV personality Bob Dornan was their host that day. He’d been wearing a simple bracelet, given to him by a Vietnamese hill tribesman, and he wore it as a reminder of the suffering that was taking place in Southeast Asia. The girls loved the idea and were able to have metal bracelets created that sold for $2.50, which was roughly the cost of a movie ticket at the time. The bracelet campaign was officially launched on Veteran’s Day, 1970, and the response was overwhelming. In total, the campaign lasted six years and the organization distributed over 5 million bracelets. The money was used to form local organizations and to create bumper stickers, buttons, and more bracelets.