Story research makes connection

Bracelet to remember Vietnam POW Kenneth Goff brings people together after all these years

Vietnam POW Kenneth Goff
Vietnam POW Kenneth Goff

More than 45 years ago, Patricia Berkheimer, now of Virginia, was living in Rhode Island. The Vietnam War had been over for only a few short years and many wanted to simply move on. Others were not so content to turn the page on a story that hadn't really ended - the names of absent Vietnam soldiers were now added to the more than 81,000 Americans, from a handful of military conflicts, to be listed as missing in action.

Students in Los Angeles at that time decided to create an organization which would keep the names of the missing and imprisoned on the front pages and in the forefronts of people's minds. Their organization was Voices in Vital America and they launched the POW/MIA Bracelet Campaign. Their plan was to manufacture and sell bracelets with the names and identifying information of the missing engraved upon them. Present upon wrists across America, the bracelets would ensure that our missing in action and prisoners of war were not simply forgotten about in an effort to move on to better days.

While the plan was valiant, the celebrities and potential funding sources the students went to in order to spread the word and obtain the money for materials were not interested. Finally, the husband of their school supervisor offered to donate enough brass and copper to make 1,200 bracelets. They sold for $2.50 and $3.00 each. Before they knew it, over 10,000 bracelets per day were being requested. By the time Voices in Vital America closed up shop in 1976, the names of the missing were upon the wrists of millions of people.

"A friend of mine had a bracelet on his wrist and he let me wear it for a week," Berkheimer recalled. "But I couldn't give it up. I said 'I can't give this back to you.' I've had it in my jewelry box all these years. I've had it for over 45 years. The name on it is Kenneth B. Goff. My intention was always to get it to one of his family members."

Recently, Berkheimer asked her neighbor, June, to research the name online. "I was amazed when my girlfriend across the street found your article," she said. In the summer of 2019, the Warwick Beacon ran an article about Kenneth Bradford Goff Jr., the son of Kenneth Bradford Goff Sr. and Annie (Quigley) of Warwick.

On Aug. 24, 1967, a Bell Iroquois Utility Helicopter from the 119th Assault Helicopter Company, 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, was taking part in an operation known as Paul Revere IV, near the Cambodian border. The crew, stationed at Pleiku, was en route with passengers to Plei Krong as part of a support liaison mission. The copter carried Goff and eight other individuals.

When the craft became caught in a down-draft, it suddenly crashed into the Krong Bo Lah River. The occupants were swept downstream. Four, including Goff, were never found and it was assumed they had been taken captive. Goff, who has been declared legally dead, remains missing in action.

After tracking me down, Berkheimer asked if I might go on to track down someone in Goff's family.

I was able to find contact information for a brother Leslie and a sister, Mrs. Lois Lannon, now of Florida. I left a telephone message for Lannon and hoped for the best. The following day, I received a soft-spoken message. "This is Lois Lannon. Please call me back when you get a chance. It’s about the POW that's my brother."

I called her back and we spoke about Kenneth and the bracelet. I provided her with Berkheimer's contact information. "Thank you for doing this," she replied.

Later that day, I received a call from Berkheimer who was over the moon.

"I'm ecstatic," she said. "I called June and said 'I talked to the sister!' I'm going to put her number in my cell phone. She's 71 years old and she's so nice to talk to. I'm going to send the bracelet off to her. And I'm going to get a card and send it to her. June's going to write what I want to say."

"Thank you so much for this," Berkheimer echoed Lannon's words.

The gratitude, however, is mine. What an honor it has been to connect the girl who once wore the name of a hero on her wrist with the sister of that hero. And how fulfilling to know that Goff's name and memory are still on people's lips. As long as the POW/MIA bracelets exist, that last page of Vietnam will never turn - that unfinished story will remain unfinished, as it should until everyone is accounted for.