For more than 30 years, a Centralia family and a Pennsylvania woman have shared the same prayer — that Army Sgt. Rodney Griffin, whose helicopter was shot down in Cambodia in May 1970, would return home.
While that prayer has yet to be answered, Griffin’s family recently learned that Beth Mitchell of Kittanning, Pa., has an MIA/POW bracelet engraved with Griffin’s name. Mitchell’s older sister bought the bracelet from a newsstand in her hometown of Ford City, Pa.
“From the minute she brought it home, I took interest in it,” said Mitchell, who inherited the bracelet from her newly married sister in 1977.
Almost 20 years later, Mitchell learned that a traveling exhibit of the Vietnam War Memorial would be in her area. One day she put on the bracelet with Griffin’s name, loaded her two kids into a stroller and went to the exhibit, where she was upset to learn that Griffin was still listed as missing in action.
Mitchell then became an amateur Internet detective, researching and reading everything she could find on the missing Vietnam soldier.
“Night after night I would read about Vietnam,” Mitchell said. “I located the story about his helicopter going down in Cambodia and printed that and have kept it with the bracelet.”
Over the years, Mitchell’s inquiries about Griffin grew less frequent. Last month, on a whim, she typed Griffin’s name into an Internet search engine and up popped a link to an Oct. 5 Missourian article about the missing soldier and his family’s continuing hope that he might someday come home.
“I clicked onto it and got goose bumps looking at the date that it had been written,” Mitchell said. “(What was) only a name to me for so many years is now turning out to be a real person.”
Late last month, Mitchell wrote to the Missourian, asking to be put in contact with Griffin’s brother, Bill, and his sister-in-law, Doris, of Centralia. A week later, she finally got her chance to talk to the family, who has welcomed Mitchell’s interest in Rodney.
Doris Griffin said that over the years, she and her husband — Rodney’s older brother, who has been wearing his worn MIA/POW bracelet for more than 30 years — have been contacted by people in Texas and Georgia who also have bracelets with Rodney’s name on them.
“It’s amazing that so many people have come to know Rodney, all across the country really,” Doris Griffin said.
MIA/POW bracelets were first introduced on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1970. Engraved with a random soldier’s name, the bracelets were distributed to about 5 million Americans during the remaining years of the Vietnam conflict to raise awareness of the soldiers fighting in Southeast Asia.
Mitchell said the bracelet with Griffin’s name made her appreciate the hardships faced not only by soldiers, but by their families as well.
“That is when I became almost obsessed with watching those names scroll across the bottom of the television looking for Rodney’s name to appear,” she said. “And watching the POWs getting off of the airplanes into the arms of loved ones. I was 11 years old then, but I have never forgotten those television scenes.”
The bracelet was the beginning of Mitchell’s lifelong interest in America’s war veterans. A technician in a hospital laboratory, Mitchell wears an American flag pin to work every day and recently sent care packages to military personnel in the Middle East.
“When I learn that (a patient) served in Vietnam and is willing to talk about it, I am always willing to listen to them,” Mitchell said. “I just have this passion for all veterans. They served our country; most were just kids when doing so.”
Mitchell said the amount of information she has received about Griffin since connecting with his family has been overwhelming. Last week, she expressed gratitude for the opportunity to finally learn more about “her soldier” and to let his family know that there are people who still care about the fate of America’s POWs and MIAs.
“I would just like to let his family know that even though I did not lose a loved one in Vietnam, there are people that pray for the MIA’s and POW’s and still care what happened to them,” Mitchell said. “I just wanted them to know that they are not alone in their prayers.”