ESCANABA - Stephanie Carpenter of Escanaba had long forgotten about the POW/MIA bracelet bearing the name Maj. Kenneth Cordier that she purchased more than three decades ago. She only recently learned the status of the Air Force pilot whose name was engraved on the band along with the date of his capture on Dec. 2, 1966. Ironically it was the arrival of the traveling Vietnam Wall that was on display in Van Cleve Park in Gladstone over the Fourth of July holiday that brought the bracelet back to her mind.
"I bought it (the bracelet) when I was a senior in high school in the mid 70s," Carpenter said. "I was living in Newport Beach, Calif., at the time and they were selling them for $1. I remember that the Vietnam War was such a big thing at that time and I felt that was my own way of showing my support."
When she relocated to Delta County, on impulse Carpenter brought the band into the Daily Press office where she works in advertising and showed it to now retired sports editor, Denny Grall, who was, himself, a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
Stephanie Carpenter of Escanaba is shown with a POW/MIA bracelet bearing the name Maj. Kenneth Cordier she purchased more than three decades ago. She was able to speak with Cordier earlier this year.
"It's been in my jewelry box for so long and I never really knew what I should do with it after so many years," Carpenter said. "The first thing Denny said was, 'You've got to take it to the wall in Gladstone and see if his name is on it.'"
When stopping in Gladstone with the bracelet in hand, Carpenter said she went through the names engraved on the wall to see if she could find a name to match the one on her band.
"All the names and dates are listed chronologically and as I was going through the list, I didn't see it," she said. "Then I turned and noticed a small tent that was offering information and when I went inside, I found a huge black book."
After showing a worker the bracelet, the individual found Cordier's name.
"They wrote out the information they had and told me to check online," Carpenter said. When she entered his name into the computer, she said she was astounded when she was able to print off more than a dozen pages of information about Cordier and his military service. After quickly scanning them, she brought the papers to Grall.
"He took it home to read it and when he gave the pages back to me," said Carpenter. "That's when I really started reading them and learned that he was a pilot and had taken a direct hit and was captured. I also learned that he was finally released in 1973."
According to the information provided, Maj. Cordier, was born and raised in Canton, Ohio, and was commissioned through the ROTC at the University of Akron in 1960 after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering. He underwent pilot training at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas, and was deployed to Southeast Asia in the 1966. Cordier was on his 175th mission when he was shot down on Dec. 2.
Commenting on his experience, Cordier wrote, "An unusual aspect of my shoot-down was that after I ejected at 24,000 feet from my F-4C when it suffered a direct hit by a SAM (surface to air missile), I fell through the fireball of a second SAM fired at my aircraft. Fortunately I received only minor burns."
The pilot was captured almost immediately after reaching the ground and, after an all-night truck ride to Hanoi, he began his 75-month tour as a POW. He was released on March 4, 1973. He has since retired from the Air Force as a colonel and makes his home in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Barbie.
Carpenter was able to have a short conversation with the POW over the phone.
"When I called the number from the information I found online, at first I thought it was a business number," Carpenter said. "When Ken answered the phone, the first thing I said was 'I found you! I found you!' Then I told him who I was and where I was from, and that I had his POW bracelet and thanked him for his service. But we only talked very briefly and we were disconnected."
In a telephone conversation with Cordier on Friday afternoon, the 75-year-old veteran vividly recalls his years spent in the POW camp. While he admits to being discouraged on many occasions, he said his worst despair came when the announcement was made that the U.S. had made arrangements to cease the bombing over Vietnam.
"Our President agreed to stop the bombing with no preconditions - not even an agreement to get an accounting of all the POWs and MIAs," Cordier said. "That was perhaps when I was at my lowest point. And, incidentally our treatment got worse after that."
Up until that point, Cordier was always optimistic about being released even though he never had any assurances that day would ever come about.
"My outlook was that we would be free within six months rather than never getting let out at all," he explained. "But after the agreement, we knew there would be absolutely nothing to pressure the Vietnamese to ever let us out."
Still hopeful, Cordier set the date of July 4, 1976 as when all the POWs would be freed.
"That was the anniversary of our country's birthday and the 10-year anniversary of when I was taken captive so it sounded like a good day to me."
Cordier learned of the signing of the Paris Agreement by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and an agreement that every POW would be notified in their own language within seven days of when they would be released. Cordier was one of 591 American POWs who were released on the same day.
When he was first contacted by Carpenter about her POW bracelet, Cordier said he was "tickled" to hear the news.
"I actually don't know how many bracelets were stamped with my name but I get about one or two calls a year from someone who has one," he said. "Some even send the bracelet to me and I've got quite a collection by now."
Carpenter expressed amazement at the chance to locate her POW.
"What would the chances be to have lived in California and him being shot down in Vietnam, and now I live here and to finally find him?" she said. "I still get the chills when I think about it. But now I know he's alive and he's safe. It's a good feeling."