WINTERPORT, Maine — When Charles Sisson saw a photograph of the military burial of three soldiers who had been listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War in the Bangor Daily News last week, he instantly recognized one of the names in the caption.
The local Vietnam veteran had been wearing a Prisoner of War/Missing In Action, or POW/MIA, bracelet for more than a decade engraved with the name of Army Staff Sgt. Bunyan D. Price Jr. of Belmont, North Carolina. Price was buried along with two others in his unit on Oct. 20 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Photos of the burial were published by multiple news outlets.
“My intent is to send it to [Price’s family] and then I’ll get another one,” Sisson said Monday, referring to the silver bracelet on his right wrist as he spoke with a BDN reporter. “He went missing on May 2, 1970, in Cambodia. I was stationed in Vietnam at that time.”
Price’s three sisters and a brother still live in his home state of North Carolina, and his sister, Arvonia Price England, said on Tuesday that Sisson’s bracelet will be the third to find its way to the family.
POW/MIA bracelets were introduced in the late 1960s to increase public awareness of the plight of Americans still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, according to the National League of POW/MIA Families.
“There were a couple when he was first declared dead. Somebody sent my brother one and someone sent my sister one,” England said, adding, “I’ll be happy to get it.”
“It was something else after 45 years finding his remains,” she said. “We all went to Washington [D.C.] last week for the burial at Arlington. That was really amazing.”
Price was laid to rest along with Army Major Dale W. Richardson of Mount Sterling, Illinois, and Army Sgt. Rodney L. Griffin of Mexico, Montana. The trio were buried in a single casket after receiving full military honors, including a horse drawn caisson, rifle volleys and the playing of “Taps.”
The family had initially been told by the Army that it believed her brother was captured after a helicopter he was in was shot down, and that he was a prisoner of war for a time.
“He was missing in action for all these years and that is what we believed,” England said. “We found out he was killed the day the helicopter went down. We even got to talk to the pilot. He was captured and he was a POW for two years. He got to come home.
“He told us they were just taking them back to base … and then it started getting fired at and getting shot and it caught on fire and they had to do an emergency landing,” she said. “He said my brother and the others jumped out because there was a lot of smoke. He thought it was maybe 10 feet. He didn’t know which way they went or what happened.”
The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, based in Hawaii, working jointly with the Kingdom of Cambodia, went back to the scene of the crash several times, and in February 2012 witnesses identified a single burial site that contained remains from the three missing soldiers, the agency’s website states.
The remains were taken to Hawaii and forensic pathologists matched their DNA with DNA samples provided by family members.
Richardson, Price and Griffin were all assigned to 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 25th Infantry Division and were passengers on a Huey helicopter en route to Fire Support Base Katum, South Vietnam, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s report states.
The Huey was diverted by bad weather, and was hit by heavy enemy ground fire after flying into Cambodian airspace, causing the pilot to make an emergency landing in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia.
The Huey’s four crewmen and its four passengers survived the landing, the report said. One crewman was able to evade being captured by enemy forces and later returned to friendly lines. The other three crewmen and one passenger were captured and became prisoners of war, with two dying in captivity and two others — including the pilot — released by the Vietnamese in 1973.
“Richardson, Price and Griffin died at the site of the crash during a firefight with enemy forces,” the agency determined.
“All three were buried together in Arlington,” England said. “It’s over with now. We have remains and they’re here.”
The story might be over for the Price siblings, but the mission to find other missing soldiers goes on.
“Today there are 1,626 American service members that are still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War,” the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency statement said.
The story also is not over for Sisson, who spent three decades in the Army, retiring in 1998 as a sergeant major. He said he’s going to get another POW/MIA bracelet to replace the one he’s worn with honor, with hopes he’ll someday send it to another soldier’s family.
“I just think that the family should have it, knowing someone was wearing it hoping for him to come home,” Sisson said. “He’s back home.”