I first met Kathy Strong three years ago, when she called to tell me about the MIA/POW bracelet she had been wearing on her wrist for more than 35 years.
I wrote two stories about her that year — one in February, when she marked 40 years since James Leslie Moreland’s death, and one July 4, about the friendships she forged with Moreland’s family and fellow Green Berets.
In writing about Strong’s quest to find out more information about Moreland, I also spoke with the Green Beret’s commanding officer Paul Longgrear and a fellow soldier Richard Allen.
They both sent me e-mails today regarding Strong, Moreland and Strong’s commitment to wearing the bracelet for so long. Here’s what they had to say:
FROM PAUL LONGGREAR, WHO WILL OFFICIATE AT MORELAND’S BURIAL:
“Q: 1. How many memorial/burial services for MIAs have you officiated at?
A: This is the first although I’ve done some MIA-POW ceremonies. The Army has them annually at each military post/fort.
Q. What sense of closure do you feel this brings to the families?
A: One never gives up hope until there is a casket with proof in it. Moreland’s parents died without closure.
Q: If you know, what do you think you might say at the service regarding Moreland?
A: I want evervone to know how much respect Jim received from his peers. I have lined up his old military school to provide some current cadets for participation in the service. To be a SF medic one had to be academically qualified for Officer school. Jim was a terrific football player and carried that mind set into the military with him. He had a can do never give up attitude, etc., etc., etc.
Q. Now that you have gotten to know Kathy Strong a bit, what do you think of her commitment to wearing the bracelet until Moreland’s remains come home? Do you think it is unusual?
A: There are a handful of people in all the world that have the patriotic resolve that Kathy has. I am convinced that she is a guardian angel provided to watch over Jim’s time in MIA status. The fact that she knows all his buddies and family speaks for the supernatural relationship she has with him.
Q: Is there anything more you would like to say about your time with Moreland in Vietnam, Kathy Strong, MIA bracelets or anything else you believe could be related to this story?
A: This has healed a festering wound in my soul. I can now rest because he was the last of my men that we lost on the battle field. There are two more men missing from that battle but they were with the A-team and I don’t feel quite the responsibility for them as for my personal soldiers. I can now focus my prayers for their return but I can do it without the guilt that I dealt with over (Green Berets) Lindewald, Burke, Thompson, Brande and Moreland.”
FROM RICHARD ALLEN:
“Q: Will you attend the burial?
A: I will certainly try to do so.
Q: What sense of closure do you feel this brings to the families?
A: A sense of relief, that James, who served his Country with distinction, can finally be laid to rest, beside his parents.
A: Now that you have gotten to know Kathy Strong a bit, what do you think of her commitment to wearing the bracelet until Moreland’s remains come home?
A: There is a Patriot, and I don’t know her politics. When you are serving in combat, one of the things that keeps you going is having someone who cares about you at home. Personally, I received a ‘Dear John’ letter from my girl back in L.A. in the afternoon of Feb 6th, and I would have much rather known that there was someone like Kathy who cared about me and my team. In fact I remember that many women couldn’t be celibate for 12 months while their boyfriend or husband was in harm’s way.
Q. Is there anything more you would like to say about Kathy Strong?
Kathy is the real story, she held onto the memory of a fallen warrior for 40 + years, and was active in her support. Translate that to today. Although there are only a relative handful, how many Iraq, or Afghanistan MIA’s are remembered, by a girl/woman who can sympathize with them and their loved ones, and remember as well, that these men sacrificed themselves for our Country?
These fallen heroes are forgotten and tossed aside. Instead, Americans sit back and watch American Idol, and have more emotional involvement with Snooki. To me, this is really quite embarrasing for a culture and a Country as powerful (as we once were).”
Here are the two other stories I wrote about Strong:
SOLDIER MISSING BUT NOT FORGOTTEN:
AFTER 35 YEARS, WOMAN STILL WEARS MIA BRACELET
PUBLISHED Thursday, 2/28/2008
WALNUT CREEK — She’s never met him, and it’s likely that he’s dead. Yet Kathy Strong feels a powerful bond with James Leslie Moreland.
He was a Green Beret in the Vietnam War who has been Missing in Action since Feb. 7, 1968. Strong has worn a bracelet engraved with Moreland’s name for more than 35 years, fulfilling a promise she made when she received it to keep the simple stainless steel band on her wrist until he returned home.
“I was in seventh grade when I put the bracelet on,” said Strong, a 47-year-old Walnut Creek resident who works in Richmond. “He was missing almost five years by the time I got the bracelet.”
She received the bracelet Christmas Day 1972 in her stocking. It was one of about 5 million bracelets made to remind Americans of the more than 2,500 military personnel who were missing or prisoners during the Vietnam War.
Moreland, who lived in Anaheim, is one of 1,788 troops still missing from that war. Of those, 179 are from California.
Dating back to World War II, there are about 88,000 troops unaccounted for, said Capt. Mary Olsen, spokeswoman for the Defense Department’s Prisoner of War-Missing in Action, or POW-MIA, office. Currently, four soldiers are missing in Iraq.
“I was very young when Vietnam was going on,” said Strong, who lived in Southern California when she received the bracelet. “I don’t really understand a lot of the politics behind it. But personally, I don’t believe we should go to any other war until we get our men back from the last war.”
As Strong grew into adulthood, she gradually learned more about the man who has been a presence in her life for decades.
Through research in books about Vietnam, Strong found that Moreland was seriously injured and presumed dead at age 22 in the battle at Lang Vei. When she marked the 40th anniversary earlier this month of the last time he was seen alive, , Strong decided to make her story public to remind people in Contra Costa County and the country that there are still hundreds of American military personnel missing and that she and others are keeping their memories alive.
“I’ve never been to Vietnam,” Strong said. “But I still feel a connection with my MIA as well as the others who were with him the night he died.”
Paul Longgrear, Moreland’s commanding officer, survived the battle and now lives near Atlanta. Longgrear shed light on Moreland’s probable death in a phone interview with the Times.
After being attacked, Longgrear, Moreland and a handful of other men retreated into an underground bunker, said Longgrear, 64. Moreland was a medic in the small mobile strike force.
Moreland climbed up to retrieve a machine gun, said Longgrear, who was 25 at the time.
“While he was there,” Longgrear said, “a tank shot at him and shattered the back of his head with shrapnel. It was a very devastating wound, but he was a tough kid.”
Moreland lived through the night and was injured again when the enemy began blowing up the camp, Longgrear said. The officer and his men decided to make a break for it.
“When we got ready to go,” he said, “Moreland was unresponsive. The best we could determine, he was dead or wasn’t going to live. Everybody was wounded, and we were kind of limited in what we could do for each other.”
Longgrear and some others were picked up by a special forces helicopter. A few men were captured.
“Moreland’s body was never found,” Longgrear said. “He was a great kid. We used to have a lot of fun. He was a good-looking kid, about 6-foot-1, 185 pounds. He had a real cocky attitude. We all did. We were Green Berets — thought we were 10 feet tall and bulletproof.”
Longgrear said that he and other veterans are glad that people such as Strong have worn their POW-MIA bracelets for all these years, in honor of their fallen friends.
“It makes me very appreciative of someone who loves America and appreciates a person who would go and sacrifice their life,” Longgrear said. “I think it’s wonderful that this young lady cares enough not to give up hope. And that’s what I think the bracelet symbolizes — that we will not forget you.”
Strong said she would like to meet Moreland’s family, but Longgrear said he doubted the family would be receptive. Moreland’s sister contacted Longgrear twice to talk about her brother.
“I know his parents are dead,” Longgrear said. “It’s very difficult. It’s such an emotional thing. The whole family became a victim because when you’re missing (someone) like that, there’s no closure.”
The League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia has continued to pressure the government to bring the remains of their loved ones home. The original group that sold the POW-MIA bracelets disbanded in 1976.
But the Ohio chapter of the league has revived the effort, selling bracelets with the names of about 100 missing troops who served in Vietnam. Their families have given permission for the sale. In addition, bracelets for Navy Capt. Scott Speicher, missing from the 1991 Gulf War, and Army Sgt. Keith Maupin, a prisoner of war in Iraq, also are available.
Liz Flick, who distributes the bracelets for the chapter, said she and others she knows have been wearing their bracelets as long as Strong.
“It is very definitely a brotherhood of those of us who wear the bracelets,” she said. “If you’re out and you see someone with the bracelet and you hold up your wrist, it’s an immediate connection — like yes, you’re working on this, too.”
Strong said she’s happy to know that there is a network of people like her in the country. And if Moreland’s remains are not recovered in her lifetime, she is determined to die with the bracelet still wrapped around her wrist.
“It’s just a promise I made to this person, and it’s a promise I intend on keeping.” Strong said. “I could take the bracelet off, and probably no one would notice. But I would know.”
More information about military Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action is at www.pow-miafamilies.org or www.powmialeague.org and www.dtic.mil/dpmo
Details about Special Forces killed in Southeast Asia are at www.sfahq.com
POW/MIA bracelets can be purchased by sending a check or money order for $10 to Ohio Chapter MIA/POW, Attn: Mrs. Liz Flick, P.O. Box 14853, Columbus, OH 43214.
FOR SOME, VIETNAM STILL FORGING BONDS
Published: Friday, 7/4/2008
By Theresa Harrington
WALNUT CREEK: For more than 35 years, Kathy Strong has tried to learn all she could about a soldier missing in Vietnam whose name she wears on a bracelet around her wrist.
Her dreams of one day meeting James Leslie Moreland’s family and fellow soldiers came true over the past two months, when she flew to Washington state and met his sisters, then flew to Los Angeles for a Weekend of Heroes convention honoring Moreland’s commanding officer.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Strong, as she looked through her trip photos and mementoes at her Walnut Creek home recently. “I wanted to know that somebody loved him and somebody missed him and I could definitely tell that from my visits.”
Strong’s journey began when she received the thin metal band in her Christmas stocking as a teenager in 1972. In the decades that followed, she watched news reports to see if Moreland or his remains returned home, but he remained missing.
Her attachment to him grew, leading Strong to seek out books and Web sites that mentioned Moreland and the Feb. 7, 1968 battle of Lang Vei, where he was last seen alive. Five months ago, she marked the 40th anniversary of his disappearance by telling her story to the Times. She mentioned she wanted to speak to Moreland’s family and those who served with him.
“Now, you are a part of the story,” she told the Times.
Her words turned out to be prophetic.
The Times telephoned Paul Longgrear, who had been Moreland’s commanding officer, for the original story. He agreed to speak with Strong and the two arranged to meet in June in California.
After Strong’s story was published Feb. 28, it made its way via e-mail and the Internet to Moreland’s sisters in Washington, and to Richard Allen in Sherman Oaks in Southern California. One of 24 Green Berets who served with Moreland at the battle of Lang Vei, Allen contacted the Times that afternoon and agreed to speak with Strong.
“I have built a Web site commemorating that battle and those who stood their ground against overwhelming odds,” Allen wrote in an e-mail. “I would say that a vast majority of us feel that we were forgotten, so it is great to see that some are still remembered.”
Moreland’s sister Linda contacted the Times a month later, asking to get in touch with Strong.
“I was 19 years old when my brother became listed as MIA,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I hope to one day get good news.”
Thrilled to hear from people who could shed more light on Moreland, Strong arranged to meet Linda and her sister Anita at a restaurant in May. Allen agreed to meet Strong and Longgrear in June.
After returning from both meetings, Strong was eager to share her newfound knowledge with the Times, in part because readers were so responsive to the first story about her and her bracelet.
Moreland’s sisters recounted stories about fishing with their brother and gave Strong a copy of his high school graduation photo, featuring a smiling face with brown eyes and dimples. Anita told Strong that Moreland had wanted to become a dentist and live in the Rogue River area after serving in the war.
Prompted by the Times story, Linda contacted the Ohio chapter of Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Families and agreed to allow Moreland’s name to be distributed on new MIA bracelets.
Strong ordered several bracelets with Moreland’s name and presented them to Longgrear and Allen, who continue to wear them.
During their meeting, Longgrear signed an autograph for Strong, calling her Moreland’s “guardian angel.”
“I think that kind of spoke to her spirit,” Longgrear said in a phone interview from Georgia last week.
Allen said Strong impressed him as a true patriot. He hopes to get more information from Moreland’s family for his Web site.
“There’s two sides to any military person’s story,” Allen said in a Thursday phone interview. “There’s their own personal battle experience and there’s their family experiences back home.”
Strong now has both sides of Moreland’s story.
And she remains committed to wearing his bracelet until she learns the true ending.
“The journey’s not over,” Strong said. “I feel like the next chapter is we need Moreland to come home.”
FEB. 16 UPDATE: A CBS Channel 5 reporter called me yesterday, saying he wanted to do a TV news piece following up on my story. Kathy Strong called to say it will be broadcast at 10 p.m. on the CW (channel 12 or 44), on Channel 5 at 11 p.m. and will be available after midnight at www.cbssf.com.
Do you agree with Allen’s comment that many “fallen heroes are forgotten and tossed aside?”