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The Bracelet

For more than three decades, a simple emblem linked Patsy Bellard with a soldier she had never met.

By Rebecca Barrett
Corvallis Gazette-Times
May 27, 2006 

For 35 years, Patsy Bellard lit a candle each day and said a prayer for a man she never met.

His name, William Kinkade, is inscribed on a metal bracelet she’s worn since 1971.

One day while Bellard was at work in Nacogdoches, Texas, a high school student came by selling POW/MIA bracelets for $2.

She had a choice of names. The spelling of Kinkade, with two k’s caught her attention.

“That’s the one I decided to pick,” she said. When the prisoners of war were released in 1973, Bellard watched and waited to see if Kinkade would step off the plane.

But the young Air Force captain from Corvallis never did. “I guess you can take it off now,” Bellard’s husband said.

“He’s still MIA,” Bellard replied. “As long as his status doesn’t change, I’m gonna keep it.”

Nearly 5 million of these bracelets were sold in the early 1970s. Proceeds were used to raise awareness and support families of missing and imprisoned American soldiers.

Bellard never took hers off.

Each day she prayed, “Hang in there, buddy. You’re coming home.”

“I always felt there was some connection.”

But perhaps her greatest act of patriotism and loyalty came last December. Bellard, 63, whose health has been declining, decided to seek out the soldier’s family to give them the bracelet. Her search put her in contact with the coordinator of the Benton County Veteran’s Memorial, Les Whittle.

Kinkade’s name is etched in the granite tablets at the National Guard Armory along with other residents who were killed in military action.

For months, Whittle explored all leads on Kinkade’s family. But because the soldier lived in Corvallis only while he was attending Oregon State University, there were few to follow.

Finally, in March, Whittle got an e-mail from a man in Iowa who was involved with the Virtual Wall, an online memorial to Vietnam soldiers. That led them to another man in New York who was Kinkade’s roommate in the Air Force and who knew Kinkade’s sister.

And in April, a small band of metal finally connected two strangers who share a love and hope for a missing soldier.

Sharon Medak is Kinkade’s younger sister. She and Bill, as he was known to his family and friends, grew up in Madras. He was a curly-haired kid who took spankings for her when she’d done wrong.

“I was a spoiled little brat, and he would protect me,” Medak said.

When he was old enough to work, Bill saved his money so that he could take flying lessons.

“He was so in love with flight,” Medak said.

Bill and a friend from school talked each other into joining the military. He attended OSU and was part of the ROTC program.

At college, Bill met a woman, they were married and had two children, a boy and a girl, before he was sent to Vietnam.

On a reconnaissance mission over north Vietnam and Laos on Sept. 1, 1968, Capt. Jack Wilson and then-1st Lt. Kinkade were flying with another F-4D Phantom from the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Early that morning, the other plane was shot down, and Kinkade and Wilson responded, fighting back enemy troops near where the other plane had crashed.

Then Kinkade’s plane was hit by ground fire, according to military records.

The pilot ejected.

The plane exploded and disintegrated before it hit the ground.

No contact with Kinkade was made.

A search was called off due to hostile fire and deteriorating weather.

Kinkade was listed as missing in action.

His sidearm service revolver, a .45-caliber, was later recovered in pristine condition. Kinkade’s family once received a phone call from a man who said that he was in a prison camp with Bill. The man hung up without leaving a name, and they never heard from him again.

In 1973, at the request of his wife, Kinkade’s status was changed to killed in action. His wife and children, who could not be contacted for this story, are estranged from Medak.

But she has never given up hope that her brother might still be alive.

“My fairy tale is that he met a woman, and he stayed there in Vietnam,” she said.

Medak owns a telecommunication consulting firm with her husband, Walt. They live near the Portland airport and fighter jets thunder overhead on training missions.

“It seems like Bill flies over us twice a day,” she said.

Bill loved the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee Jr.

“That poem about touching the face of God was his favorite,” Medak said.

Bellard uses the same line from the poem when she talks about Kinkade.

Bellard is also a pilot. She flew single-engine aircraft and owned a flight charter business.

“I didn’t think of him as burning and falling to Earth,” Bellard said. “It was like that poem … reaching out and touching the face of God.”

Once Kinkade’s sister was located, Bellard took off the bracelet and mailed it to Oregon. On Monday, it will be presented to Medak during a celebration at the Benton County Veterans Memorial that begins at 1:30 p.m.

“I feel like my arm’s about five pounds lighter,” Bellard said.

The day she mailed the bracelet, she lit a candle and prayed.

“OK, William, your sister is taking care of you now,” she said.

“Call me Bill,” a voice said to Bellard.

“I looked around,” she said, but no one was there. “I wonder if he was called Bill sometime in his life?” 

Photo: Les Whittle and Sharon Medak.  By Andy Cripe/Gazette-Times

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