'Bond between strangers': Vietnam POW bracelet to unite pair after decades

Harold Flowers was 13 when his parents gave him a POW bracelet during the Vietnam War in 1968 – a metal band bearing the name of a U.S. soldier captured by the North Vietnamese.

Nearly 50 years later, Flowers, of Angier, N.C., tracked down the man whose name he wore around his wrist: 83-year-old former U.S. Army Major Raymond Schrump, a Purple Heart recipient who spent nearly five years in an enemy prison camp.

On Saturday, the two will meet for the first time, and Flowers will give Schrump the bracelet he has kept all these years – a bracelet Schrump said represents a "bond between strangers."

"I feel like I've known this man all my life and I haven't met him yet."

— Raymond Schrump

"I feel like I've known this man all my life and I haven't met him yet," Schrump told FoxNews.com Thursday.

Schrump was captured on May 23, 1968 in southwestern Tay Ninh Province when the then-36-year-old Army major responded to an American unit that had been ambushed in his district.

"I went across an open field to determine if a couple of my soldiers were killed or wounded and then there was small arms fire," said Schrump, originally from Tomahawk, Wisc., and a married father of three at the time. "Next thing I knew, they came out of the woodline and took me prisoner."

"They put a pistol to my head and I thought I was going to being executed right there on the spot," he said. "All I could think about was my family."

Schrump was taken -- wounded and suffering from a broken arm -- to a large rubber plantation and placed in a bunker three stories deep, away from the other POWs.


The fear he would be killed occupied his thoughts nearly every day of his captivity.

Schrump, severely malnourished, weighed just 86 pounds at the time of his rescue on Feb. 12, 1971, when he and 27 other American prisoners were flown by U.S. helicopters to Saigon. He was then taken to a U.S. base in the Philippines and, after recovering from a bout with malaria, flown to California and then eventually Fort Bragg, where he was reunited with his family at a nearby hospital.

"To see them all together again, I just can't describe how that felt," he said.

While Schrump was taken captive in 1968, Flowers was an eighth grade student in North Carolina. His mother, he recalled, purchased the POW bracelet bearing Schrump's name, which he proudly wore on his wrist for a couple of years before hanging it on a bulletin board above his dresser at his home in Angier. The bracelet was one of 750 with Schrump's name on it.

Over the years, Flowers, now 60, said the bracelet was packed away when he married and moved to another home.

While looking through a folder of high school memorabilia, Flowers, a fireman of 35 years, said he found the bracelet tucked away with a bunch of old letters. He recently contacted the North Carolina-based non-profit Veterans' Legacy Foundation, seeking information on Schrump -- which was first reported by Fox affiliate WRAL.

(Veteran's Legacy Foundation)

Flowers said he was shocked to learn Schrump had survived is ordeal and is alive and well and living in his home state.

"I was one happy fellow," he said, upon learning Schrump's whereabouts.

The organization connected the two men and arranged for them to meet Saturday at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville.

"We are beyond thrilled to be able to assist in these two meeting each other," John Elskamp, president of Veterans Legacy Foundation, told FoxNews.com. "Our mission is to not only honor veterans but to celebrate their legacies. Both of these men are true patriots and we thank them both for allowing us to be a part of their story."

"This is what was was meant to be," said Flowers. "He came home for me to give it back to him."

"The bracelet is a bond that can't be broken," he said. "It's going to an honor to give it to him."