Full Circle

Edwin Alexander Hawley, Captain, Air Force
Date of Loss: 17 February 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Date of release: 12 February, 1973

It’s not just a statistic. I wore a stainless steel bracelet with Edwin Hawley’s name on it for months. I was a junior at Mountain Brook High School when I put that bracelet on. February 10th, 2014, I put on another bracelet. This one has the phone number for the National crisis hot line on it.
I had just delivered a talk to veterans at the Birmingham Veterans Affairs medical center. First, I told my own story of spiraling depression which ended with me putting a loaded gun to my head and pulling the trigger. It was not the end of my life. Instead, it was a beginning. It was the beginning of my life with blindness. After I spoke, Brooke Brown, a suicide prevention coordinator, spoke to the veterans. Although Brooke and I had never presented together, it seemed as though we had been doing it for years. She hadn’t even heard my talk, only part of the questions and answers afterward. But, at every turn, she reinforced things that I had said, either in my talk or during the Q&A.
At the end of everything, Brooke handed out freebies to the veterans. One of the items she gave them was a bracelet with the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800.273.8255. I put one of the bracelets on. I didn’t think much more about it at the moment. Veterans were crowding around to thank me, to ask me if I remembered them from when I used to work at the blind center.
Later, back at work, as I reached for my bottle of water, I noticed the new bracelet on my wrist. I stopped. I hadn’t thought of Captain Hawley and his POW bracelet for years. The memories flooded back. I got the bracelet in autumn of 1972.
Captain Hawley was released in February of 1973, just shy of the one year mark of his capture. Later that spring, he came to Mountain Brook High School and addressed the entire student body. At the end of his speech I approached the stage and held up my right arm, the one which bore the bracelet with his name engraved on it. He leaned down and removed the bracelet from my wrist.
All at once the countless times that I had looked at the bracelet and thought of the unknown man flooded through me. Edwin Hawley had been a part of me for months. I wasn’t quite sure how to picture him but he was there, he was always there. And now he was here. The flesh and blood man who had, until that moment, existed as a name engraved on a stainless steel bracelet. As he removed the bracelet from my wrist, the whole purpose of the POW bracelet project came full circle.
And now I wear another bracelet. Although this bracelet has no name on it,it could be meant for anyone. It could be meant for you, your child, your friend, your sister, your mother or father. This bracelet can save a life. I’ll wear it. I’ll wear it until I can give it to someone who needs it. I’ll wear it until I can give it to someone who’s thinking that life might not be worth living. I’ll wear it until I know it’s time to give it away, just as I knew it was time to give away Captain Hawley’s POW bracelet.

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