Around midnight last July 9, I sat down at the computer to catch up on e-mails and flipped on the TV. I saw that my husband, Lee, had recorded the evening news on the DVR. I was too tired from a long day of errands and yard work to even channel surf, so I just pressed “play.”
Shortly into the newscast, I heard a story about a group of men who’d been missing in action since the Vietnam War. And just like that, my mind went flashing back in time.
It was 1970 and I was a sophomore in high school in Livonia, Michigan. One of my classmates had brought in a box of metal bracelets.
“Neat,” I said. “What are they?”
“Each one is engraved with the name of someone captured or missing in Vietnam,” she said. “They’re two dollars each. The money goes to raising awareness of POWs and MIAs.”
Two of my older cousins were serving in the war. I was incredibly proud of them. Wearing a bracelet seemed like a great way to show support for them and all those who served. Searching my pants pocket, I found four crumpled dollar bills.
I picked out a bracelet I thought one of my sisters would like, and shuffled through the box some more. My eyes immediately caught the name on one bracelet: MAJ. JOSEPH CHRISTIANO.
I liked that his name was similar to mine and had “Christ” in it. Under his name it read USAF 24 DEC 65. LAOS. He’d gone missing the day between my birthday and Christmas.
Every morning I put on my bracelet and said a prayer: Lord, please watch over Major Christiano and his family. Bring him home. The more I prayed, the more connected I felt to the major. And the more it hit me how much he, and all those serving, had sacrificed.
I kept hoping I’d hear his name on the news, even had my friends and family listening too. Months, then years, went by without a word.
After high school I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida. Between all the packing and unpacking, I lost my bracelet. It broke my heart. But I didn’t stop praying for Major Christiano. I told everyone about him—friends, church members, folks everywhere, really. I couldn’t let my brave airman be forgotten.
In 1992 I was the praise and worship leader at the local Assembly of God church. To raise money for a mission trip that year I planned a series of concerts, singing and playing the guitar in churches for offerings. I mapped out a tour route between West Palm Beach and my 20-year high-school reunion in Livonia.
A week into the trip, I visited my sister Becky, who was living in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“Let’s go to Washington, D.C.,” she suggested. “There’s so much to see, especially the—”
“Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” I said, finishing her sentence. Maybe I’d finally find out what happened to Major Christiano.
The next day we visited the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument. At last, we were at the wall. There were thousands and thousands of names. So much heartbreak, so much loss. Tears sprang to my eyes.
“How am I going to find him?” I asked Becky. She took me over to a booth where a man and a woman were handing out literature about Vietnam.
“Hi,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I need help finding someone’s name.”
The woman had me sign a visitor’s list and asked who I was looking for.
“Major Joseph Christiano,” I replied.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Was he a family member?”
“Actually, I’ve never met him,” I said, the words tumbling out. I told her all about the bracelet that had led me here.
She probably thinks I’m crazy, I thought. Crying over a stranger? Praying for him for this long?
“Praying for a stranger is a powerful thing,” she said, handing me a book with the coordinates for the wall. “Each MIA has a symbol next to his name. Confirmed dead are marked with a diamond.”
I matched up the rows and names. Suddenly I saw the name: Joseph Christiano. No diamond. Still missing. Becky handed me some paper and a charcoal pencil from the booth. Carefully, I rubbed the charcoal over the paper, making an impression of the letters etched in the stone.
When I finished, I placed my hand over the major’s name and held it there, tears welling up again. Lord, please bring him home, I prayed, a prayer I’d been saying for so many years.
Later that year a package arrived from the Department of Veterans Affairs. I remembered the sign-in sheet at the booth by the memorial. That’s how they found me. Inside was a photograph. It was a face I’d never seen, but I recognized the name—Major Christiano!
They’d included some of his family and military history and mentioned that he’d been promoted to colonel. They even sent me a new bracelet. I put it on right away.
When I married Lee, in 2001, I got him listening for Colonel Christiano’s name too. And now, here was this TV report on MIAs from Vietnam. So sad, so moving.
“Six men who were shot down over Laos almost fifty years ago were buried together at Arlington National Cemetery today,” the reporter said. No names were given on the air. Still, I had an odd feeling. I did a Google search, scrolling through the results until I found what my heart already knew.
My serviceman was one of the six. Joseph Christiano was home at last.