Sometimes a series of events that seemed totally unrelated at the time they happened, come together in a most profound and an almost unbelievable way that leaves one to truly ponder the definition of “Fate” to tell a story.
I don’t know how long the events have been aligned, but for me, this part of the story began in 1972 when I was 21 flying around the country as a Stewardess for National Airlines. We often had planes full of soldiers who just wanted to finally be home.
The Vietnam conflict was still going on, and so many of my high school classmates had either been drafted or elected to join the military, and many of them did not get the opportunity to make it home.
The wearing of POW/MIA bracelets in showing support was quite popular at the time, and it was a small way to keep hope alive.
The soldier that was given to me was Army Captain Calvin Maxwell. He had been MIA since October 10, 1969. I was a senior in high school the year he went missing.
I wore the bracelet faithfully with the hope that one night on the evening news, I would learn that he had been found, and was on his way back to his family. The image of John McCain walking off that plane after being held captive only served to reassure me that it was possible.
The Vietnam conflict ended in 1975 with no news regarding Calvin, and like most, life had gotten busy, and for those whose lives had not been touched by this war, it faded into the background, and his bracelet found its way to a jewelry box only coming out on days we remember or honor our veterans.
On a leap of faith, we move forward 40 years, where other parts of this story that had been there all along begin to unfold.
The internet was now part of our world, and finding information was only a keystroke away. I had done many searches for Calvin over the years anticipating learning of his fate, but the vastness of the internet seemed unwilling to offer up the answer I sought, until one day I found an article on him that included a picture I believed must have been his senior picture from high school.
Finally there was a face, and Calvin Maxwell was more than just a name engraved onto a bracelet.
Interestingly enough I found this article just prior to what would be the 40th year he had been classified MIA.
At the time I thought how “coincidental” that I would find this just in time to honor him, his memory, his service, and sacrifice for this milestone day by writing a blog on VeteranAid.org dedicated to him.
For the back story of his fatal mission and my original blog, I recommend reading this for clarification to fully appreciate how this all is woven together. http://veteranaid.org/vetblog/?p=49&trashed=1&ids=22
I never really anticipated that this piece I wrote in 2009 would be anything more than just my personal tribute to this solider, and then on September 12th 2011, someone commented on the blog.
“Calvin was my cousin. Thank you so much for keeping the faith. It means the world to us. His parents were Uncle Calvin and Aunt Ruth. Sweetest people you ever met. Thank you so much my friend!!”
Once again, I found it “coincidental” that this posting was made on my Mother’s birthday, for it was my battle with the VA on her behalf that lead me to launch VeteranAid.org, which lead to the creation of the blog where Calvin’s story is told.
Not just a name engraved on a bracelet, but now a picture of him and knowing who his parents were. A Mom and Dad who “were the sweetest people”, and my heart ached at the thought they left this world without closure for their son.
Every now and then someone would post that they too had a POW/MIA bracelet with his name, and what it meant to them. Part of me didn’t much care that someone else had “my soldier” as I thought of him, but I knew that just meant there had been that many more people who had prayed and hoped for his safe return.
“Thank you! For many years I wore a bracelet with Capt. Maxwell’s name on it and never knew his story. I was looking in a jewelry box today and found the bracelet and thought I would look online to see if I could find anything about him. Thank you again for providing this valuable service.”
“I just randomly googled Captain Calvin Maxwell and found this site. I too have a Calvin Maxwell POW bracelet that I was given in the sixth grade in 1971. A teacher purchased one for me since I always was commenting on hers. I wore it constantly for years and still on occasion wear it. I too have prayed for the young soldier and his family. It goes to show that those lost are not forgotten. My own brother who has since past served in Viet Nam. It is an honor it wear it.”
“I also wore a bracelet for Captain Calvin Maxwell. When the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial was unveiled, I went there, hoping that Captain Maxwell’s name was not engraved there. Sadly, I found him listed in the index listed as MIA.
As I went to the memorial panel and counted down to the line where his name was engraved, I wished I knew more about him. Every visit I have made to “The Wall” since then, I find his name again and wonder about him.
Today, as I watched the Memorial Day Ceremonies on TV, it occurred to me to try and google his name and I found your website. Thank you for creating this on-line memorial to him.
I was not aware that his name had been worn on other wrists. It is comforting to know that there were so many of us wearing the POW/MIA bracelets during the time when it seemed that so much of the country was preoccupied with protesting both the war and it’s participants.
Yesterday, I had the honor of participating in Rolling Thunder. Now in its 25th year, this motorcycle ride was begun by Viet Nam Veterans who wanted to raise awareness about the service members who were left behind in Viet Nam. My husband and our two sons rode yesterday in honor and remembrance of men like Captain Calvin Maxwell.
Our sincere condolences to his family and to all you wore the bracelet for, especially on this Memorial Day. We pray for Captain Calvin Maxwell’s return.”
And then there were those who found my blog whose comments provided additional insights of who he was prior to enlisting in the Army.
“I lived in Carlsbad NM one of my school years.
There was a handsome ROTC student named Calvin Maxwell. I always wondered about his life knowing he would be in the service of his country.
I am so sad to hear this may be him. A very striking young man that I could never get up the courage to speak to.
So sorry his family has had to go through this hardest of all things to bear.”
“I went to school with Calvin at Carlsbad High. I can remember him in his ROTC uniform. He wore it with pride. I went to the traveling Memorial and saw his name on the list.”
Childhood memories are often our most treasured, and our first “best friend” is never really forgotten as evident by this post.
“I was Calvin’s best friend from about 4 years old to 18 years old. We played with each other every day as we grew up in Atlantic City. We were inseparable and traveled to the beach boardwalk and the neighborhood. He lived on Drexel and Mulloch Terrace in the inlet section of Atlantic City. He was a gentlemen and a best friend. His father, Calvin, was an Atlantic City policeman. Ruth was a sweet lady that often invited me for dinner. Ruth’s mother was a Carroll, and she also lived in the Inlet of AC Calvin and I spent many hours with her talking many things.
Prior to High School the family moved to Carlsbad New Mexico and during High School Calvin would come back to Atlantic City and we always got together. He loved Atlantic City
About 30 years ago I went to the telephone directory and called the family in Carlsbad. I believe at that time Ruth was ill. I called again and I believe Ruth had passed away. The next time I called Calvin’s father had passed
I spoke to one of Calvin’s brothers. I remember there was a John and a Scott. I cannot remember the other brothers name
A few days ago I was talking to another one of our friends and he told me that Calvin was in Atlantic City right before he was going to be sent to Vietnam, and he mention that Calvin thought he was going to be promoted to Major.
I still think about Calvin and miss the fun we had as kids.”
Amazingly I had been given this incredible glimpse into much of his life, and the people who loved him. A total stranger whose name was engraved upon a bracelet now had a history that encompassed much of his life before coming to me, but there was still yet more to learn.
“Does anyone know if Capt. Maxwell had/has any siblings?”
“Yes he had four, three of which are still here. John who also served in Vietnam, Scott, Donald & Roger. My father is John.”
Brothers – A mental picture forms as I imagine these brothers playing on the Boardwalk of Atlantic City, and their anguish for all these years, and how incomplete their circle must feel.
An entire life had been told with responses to my blog from family and strangers across the country. All who had hoped for his return to his rightful place as a son, brother, husband, cousin, and friend.
One would think that this would be where the story ends, but one more “coincidence” or happenstance had other plans.
This past Monday, we celebrated Veterans’ Day, and in the final hours of the evening with Calvin’s bracelet on my desk while I worked, I received a notification that another comment had been posted on the blog regarding the piece on Captain Calvin Maxwell. Once again I thought what a “coincidence” that on this day of all days, but nothing could have prepared me for what this comment would hold.
“Calvin Maxwell and I met in July 1969 in Nha Trang, Viet Nam, at First Field Force Headquarters. We were both Artillery Captains and were assigned to the 52nd Artillery Group, Pleiku, Central Highlands. We flew together to Pleiku and reported to the Commander, who assigned us both to the 6th Battalion 14th Artillery known as the Big Guns of the Central Highlands (8?, 175mm.. For more background go to http://www.614arty.org.) The Battalion Commander, LTC Bailey, had just returned from the siege of Ben Het, and he assigned Capt. Maxwell to be S2 (Intelligence Officer), and myself to be Battalion Motor Officer. We had bunked together for about a week but now Maxwell went to Kontum with a special intelligence unit and I stayed in Pleiku. At a staff meeting in October we learned that his plane had been shot down and he was missing. I left the Army and Viet Nam in February 1970. As the years went by I wondered if he had ever come back. I am glad that his name is now on the Viet Nam Memorial. Master Sergeant John Lamerson was Assistant S2 with Calvin Maxwell and wrote a book about his experiences entitled The Phantom of Ben Het. In the book he also writes about when Capt. Maxwell went missing. I have one picture that shows a group of us including Capt. Maxwell, taken shortly before. All these years I have kept him in my thoughts and prayers.”
His entire known lifetime had been shared from a young boy of only 4-years old playing ball with his best friend in Atlantic City to three months before he would go missing in the hell hole of Vietnam.
I sat there holding his bracelet overwhelmed and read through the comment again, and with a whisper in my heart, I wrote back to Captain Richard Lunt thanking him for what he had shared, for his service to our country, and asked for his considerations to share the pictures with me if possible.
He responded quickly, and in a matter of minutes as big as life, there Calvin stood before me on my monitor – Tall and strikingly handsome. I glanced down at his bracelet, and thought how can this be possible? (Calvin Maxwell is pictured far right)
That whisper in my heart told me, I needed to find a way to share more of his story. To put together all the pieces that for many were fragmented. Not just for me, but for those brothers, cousins, family, and all of us who wore his bracelet, or traced his name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall surrendering the hope his name was not there.
I asked Captain Lunt for his permission to share the photos, and his request was that I contact the family members first who had commented on the blog.
I held my breath that an old email address used for a post was still valid, and the contact was sent.
When a response came in, I was fearful to open what might contain a no, I didn’t want to receive.
“Yes, I would be interested. Calvin was my oldest brother, and was shot down in a birddog on 10-10-69.
I would like to see those pictures.”
“I am Calvin’s brother Scott. The other brothers are Don who is deceased and Roger. Roger was not born in NJ. He was 13 years younger than I was. Calvin, John, Don and myself all moved from Atlantic City back in about 1958.
Calvin’s wife Kay has since married and finally had kids. Calvin and Kay never had their own children.
I still stay in contact with Washington and the MIA families groups. I have been very disappointed that the government has given up on Calvin. Many of the other families had a very thick packet but our packet contained a redacted version of the events that you talked about above concerning the few days after the event. The government will not recognize the events involving the foot prints and the possibilities that he might have been taken by the locals and then moved into Laos.
Daily I pray that he didn’t suffer. With his age at the time of the event, I don’t see that he could be alive today. I just don’t know if he was held in some of the cave imprisonment camps in Laos.
I thank all of those who have added comments to this section of this great website. Mom and Dad died with a heavy heart due to the lack of information about Calvin’s condition. I retained all of the information that she had kept and continue to this day to hold the government accountable for more information. Calvin was declared PKIA and ended up with the rank of Major.”
For clarifications, I told the family and Captain Lunt I would like to do an additional story, and was granted permission by all involved.
My hope is that I have been able to do it justice, and to portray Calvin in a more complete way than just a soldier listed as MIA. I also hope that in some small way, I have allowed for connections to be made, some questions to be answered, and to honor him for this ultimate sacrifice.
I am challenged to believe that this story started as a flat piece of metal shaped to fit my wrist some 44 years ago with the words
“Capt. Calvin Maxwell
More than just a name engraved onto a bracelet, and maybe, not so “coincidental” after all.
My prayer is that one day there will be a need to add one final paragraph to this story – the one that talks about the day Captain Calvin Maxwell came home.