14 November 2004:
Bracelets still express hope for war prisoners' return
By Sue Chenoweth
Courtesy of Knight Ridder
United States Navy Captain Leo T. Profilet was a stranger to Tonyia Lackey in 1970, when the 13-year-old Texas girl placed a band on her wrist bearing the name of the Vietnam prisoner of war. By then, the downed fighter pilot had already endured two years in solitary confinement at the notorious Hanoi Hilton.
“I thought if I wore the bracelet and prayed for him, Captain Leo would be safe,” said Lackey, who was a parochial school student at the time.
By the time Profilet was reunited with his family in Palo Alto, California, three years later, Lackey's bracelet was tucked away in an apple box, affectionately stored with other special belongings. Two weeks ago, Lackey rediscovered the apple box, with the bracelet inside, in a far corner of her attic in Nederland, Texas.
“All the years since,” Lackey said, “I have never stopped wondering about Captain Leo and his family.”
She gave the bracelet to her cousin, whose husband searched for Profilet on the Internet. They discovered that the decorated Vietnam veteran and father of four children had been an electrical engineer for Westinghouse in Sunnyvale who enjoyed online chats with former POWs every morning and had died in January of a heart attack at age 75.
At a celebration of his life at Arlington National Cemetery in the spring, his family set out a basket to offer other keepsakes to remember him: Inside were about 75 POW bracelets sent over the years by strangers who wore Profilet's name on their wrists.
Lackey's bracelet was one of 5 million sold by a student group that launched the program on Veterans Day 34 years ago to remember the soldiers who were missing or held captive during a controversial war.
The nonprofit organization Voice in a Vital America raised more than $10 million with the bracelets to heighten consciousness about America's thousands of missing soldiers in Vietnam.
Liz Flick bought her first bracelet in 1972. When her missing soldier returned four years later, Flick replaced his band with bracelets for two other soldiers that she continues to wear.
“I guess I took my vows seriously,” said Flick, a decadeslong volunteer for the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. She resurrected the bracelet campaign in 1984 to help fill the many requests from people who still wanted bracelets.
A disabled Vietnam veteran in Arizona makes the stainless steel bracelets, which Flick sells for $8 apiece from her home in Ohio. Proceeds help keep pressure on the Vietnamese government to account as fully as possible for the 1,849 soldiers still missing, Flick said.
Several for-profit vendors also produce POW/MIA bracelets, Flick said. “But that seems totally wrong to me.”
Over the years Flick has replaced bracelets that have broken or worn out and has filled orders from military personnel overseas, including soldiers in Iraq. “They know we'll be there for them until they come home,” Flick said.
Even though the group's focus is on the Vietnam War, last year Flick filled bracelet requests for Iraq war POW Jessica Lynch and a few missing soldiers who didn't come back.
Lackey's nickel-plated band cost $2.50 in 1970 — the price of student admission to a movie the year the seventh-grader asked her cash-strapped single mom to buy her one.
“We never went to the movies or out to eat,” Lackey said. “So it was something special for my mom to buy it for me.”
When a POW came home, it was customary for a person with his bracelet to return it to the soldier or his family. But the Texas teen didn't know that.
“I really thought I was the only one who had his bracelet back then,” said Lackey, now a 47-year-old homemaker. “I would have loved talking to Captain Leo on the phone, telling him that although he had family and friends, there was a complete stranger, a 13-year-old, also thinking and praying for him.”
Her discovery of the apple box in the attic came nine months too late for that conversation.
“Leo was always amazed by the love and remembrance for him and the other ‘jailbirds,'” wife Sue Profilet said.
She is aware of at least 75 or so bracelets that were returned. “As far as I know,” Sue Profilet said, “Leo may have another boxful.” Bracelets continue to trickle in, she said, from well-wishers all over the country.
Sue Profilet said she will encourage Lackey to hold on to her bracelet when they finally talk, adding: “Those people are so special, aren't they?”
- Name: Leo Twyman Profilet
- Rank/Branch: O5/US Navy
- Unit: Attack Squadron 196, USS CONSTELLATION
- Date of Birth: 29 July 1928
- Home City of Record: Cairo Illinois
- Date of Loss: 21 August 1967
- Country of Loss: North Vietnam
- Status (in 1973): Released POW
- Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A6A
- Missions: 59 Vietnam
- 98 Korea AD4
Other Personnel in Incident: William M. Hardman (released POW); On other A6s:
J Forrest G. Trembley and Dain V. Scott (missing); Robert J. Flynn (released
POW) and Jimmy L. Buckley (ashes returned); on USAF F105s: Lynn K. Powell and
Merwin L. Morrill (both remains returned)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project with the assistance of one or more
of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Date Compiled: 15 March
1990. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2004.
On August 21, 1967, four aircraft launched from the USS CONSTELLATION with the assignment to strike the Duc Noi rail yard four miles north of Hanoi. The aircraft flew from Attack Squadron 196, based on board the carrier.
The route from the coast-in point was uneventful with the exception of some large weather cells building up. Further along their route they received indications of launched Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) and observed bursting 85mm anti-aircraft fire.
Lieutenant Commander “J” Forrest G. Trembley, bombardier/navigator of one Intruder, reported he had been hit and he was advised to reverse course and return to the coast. He transmitted that he was experiencing no difficulty and would proceed to the target rather than egress alone. Commander Jimmy L. Buckley was the pilot of this aircraft. Several SAMs had been launched at this time and a transmission was made “Heads up for the Air Force strike” which was being conducted in the vicinity of the A-6 target. An aircraft was
hit which was thought to be an Air Force aircraft.
Two F105D aircraft, flown by Air Force Major Merwin L. Morrill and 1Lt. Lynn K. Powell, were shot down at this approximate location on August 21, 1967. It is believed that one of these is the aircraft referred to in Navy information concerning this incident. The remains of both Air Force crewmen were repatriated on June 3, 1983. While Morrill had been classified Missing in Action, it was believed that he was dead. Powell was classified as Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
The division leader was hit while in the target area and two good parachutes were observed. The crew of this A6, Commander William M. Hardman and Capt.
Leo T. Profilet, were captured by the North Vietnamese. Both men were released from captivity on March 15, 1973.
The other three aircraft began their egress from the target. Surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) were in flight everywhere and the aircraft were maneuvering violently. A large weather cell separated them from the coast which precluded their egress further north than planned.
Another transmission was heard — “Skipper get out” — and the voice was recognized as that of Lieutenant Commander Trembley. A SAM detonated between two of the other aircraft, two parachutes and flying debris were observed.
Lieutenant Commander Trembley transmitted, “This is Milestone 2, Milestone 1 was hit, 2 good chutes, 2 good chutes.” The multitude of SAMs along with deteriorating weather may be the reason for the flight to ultimately stray well north of their planned egress track. It was believed that Lieutenant Commander Trembley's aircraft was shot down in the vicinity of the Chinese boarder.
Trembley and his BN, Dain V. Scott, were placed in a Missing In Action casualty status. Their case was discussed with the Chinese government by then Congressmen Hale Boggs and Gerald Ford, with very little information being obtained.
In their navigation around the weather, one of the remaining two A-6 aircraft observed MIGS in a run out of the overcast above Lieutenant Commander Flynn's aircraft. Requests for assistance were radioed but went unanswered. The tracking of the aircraft by airborne early warning aircraft showed them crossing the Chinese border. The maximum penetration was about eleven miles. A visual search could not be conducted due to poor weather in the vicinity of the last known position.
Later that day Peking Radio reported “two U.S. A-6 aircraft were shot down when they flagrantly intruded into China airspace and one crewman was captured”. Lieutenant Commander Flynn was held prisoner in China, his pilot, Commander Jimmy L. Buckley, was reportedly killed in the shoot down.
On March 15, 1973 Lieutenant Commander Flynn was repatriated to U.S. jurisdiction in Hong Kong and returned to the United States. The ashes of Commander Jimmy L. Buckley were returned by the Chinese in December 1975.
Two Air Force bombers and three of the four Navy aircraft on the strike mission on August 21, 1967 were shot down. Trembley and Scott, of the eight Americans shot down on August 21, 1967, are the only two who remain Missing in Action.
When American involvement in the Vietnam war ended by means of peace accords
signed in 1973, Americans held in countries other than Vietnam were not negotiated for. Consequently, almost all of these men remain missing. During the Nixon Administration and following administrations, relations with China have eased, but the U.S. seems reluctant to address the years-old problem of the fate of her men in China.
Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports have been received relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia. Many authorities believe there are hundreds who are still alive, held captive. Whether Trembley and Scott could be among them is not known. What seems certain, however, is that they have been abandoned for political expediency.
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977
Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor
P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602.
Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and
UPDATE – 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO
LEO T. PROFILET
Captain – United States Navy
Shot Down: August 21, 1967
Released: March 14, 1973
I am 46 years old now, a career Naval Officer with 26 years of continuous active service; a Naval Aviator since 1949. In 1950-51 I flew 98 missions in Korea in the venerable A-1 “Spad”, a propeller driven attack aircraft. I have a BS in Aeronautical Engineering and am a graduate of the Naval War College. Cairo, Illinois is my birthplace, where I grew up to the age of 18. Then I attended Loyola University in New Orleans before starting flight training at Pensacola, Florida. I have four children, ages 16 to 23. My oldest, a daughter, is married. My family moved from Whidby Island, Washington in 1969 (two years after I was shot down) to Palo Alto, California. So they have been there four years now, which is by far a record for us.
In 1966 I took command of Attack Squadron 196, an A-6 Intruder squadron flying from the USS Constellation. In August 1967 I was shot down on my 59th mission while diving on a target just outside of Hanoi. My bombardier-navigator, Cdr. Bill Hardman, and I were captured immediately and taken quickly to the prison in Hanoi. I did not see Bill for the next 5 1/2 years, but we came out together on the Operation Homecoming flight from Hanoi to Clark AFB in March, 1973. During my years in Hanoi I never lost faith in the American people. When I learned of the tremendous support given to the POW/MIA cause, the many organizations who responded to the call of our wives and families, that wonderful bracelet program, the letter writing campaigns, the profoundly moving welcome home – I knew that my faith was right on. The strength of our beautiful nation comes from her people. I hope that all of us, especially our young people, will become as personally involved in the future of America as with the POW/MIA cause.
I thank all of America for getting us home with honor. Let us not forget that the real heroes are our families who went through years of torment and anguish. And remember that the families of the men MIA are still undergoing that torment and anguish. Also, let us not forget the thousands who did not survive, nor the men who came home wounded, some crippled for life. Theirs was a far greater sacrifice than mine.
Leo Profilet retired from the United States Navy as a Captain. He and his wife Sue resided in California until his death January 30, 2004. He is survived his wife, two sons, and two daughters. Burial Arlington National Cemetery, on 21 April 2004.
Posted on Sat, Feb. 07, 2004
Leo T. Profilet, Navy veteran had endured `Hanoi Hilton'
FIGHTER PILOT WON MILITARY HONORS, BUT MOST CHERISHED `BEST DAD' MEDAL
By Sue Chenoweth
For 5 1/2 years, Capt. Leo T. Profilet was locked up in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” after the Navy fighter pilot's A-6 Intruder was shot down Aug. 21, 1967.
Not once did he see another American soldier during his first three years of captivity. Confined to a 7-by-7-foot cell in the North Vietnamese prison, he slept on a concrete slab next to a “honey pot,” a crude excuse for a toilet that got emptied once a day.
Still, after three years of solitary confinement, Mr. Profilet was less than pleased to hear he was getting a roommate.
“All he could think was: ‘Ohmigod, two honey pots!' ” said his wife, Sue.
The next 2 1/2 years until their release in March 1973, Leo Profilet and Jim Mehl maintained their sanity by sharing family stories and telling jokes.
“Fortunately, Leo remembered more jokes than I did,” Mehl said. Friends and relatives are remembering that enduring sense of humor after retired Navy Capt. Leo T. Profilet, who survived the Korean War and torturous years in Vietnam, had a heart attack Jan. 30 and died at home in Los Altos. He was 75.
Leo Twyman Profilet was born July 29, 1928, in Cairo, Ill.
“Next to family,” Sue Profilet said, “the love of Leo's life was the Navy.”
Mr. Profilet attended Loyola University in Chicago on the GI Bill. He studied at the Naval War College in Rhode Island and Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, and he earned a master's degree in public administration from San Jose State University after he returned from Vietnam. Leo and Sue Profilet met in 1973 on a United Airlines flight from Honolulu. She was an in-flight supervisor and he was on his way home from a vacation with his kids.
The Navy captain called her two weeks later, after a stint as grand marshal in a hometown parade and a party for POWs that Ross Perot hosted in Dallas. The couple married a year later.
Mr. Profilet retired from the Navy in 1980, then worked for Westinghouse in Sunnyvale. In 1993, he retired to his home office, where he enjoyed online chats with former POWs every morning.
He was awarded a Silver Star Medal and the Legion of Merit. He received the
Distinguished Flying Cross four times; 13 Air Medals; two Bronze Star and Navy Commendation medals; two Purple Hearts; and the Prisoner of War Medal
instituted in 1985.
But none was more important than “The Great Dad Medal of Honor,” which Mr.
Profilet's oldest daughter, Cathy Shibayama, created and gave to him several
years ago on Father's Day.
“Dad's faith in us was solid,” Shibayama said. “Whenever we doubted ourselves, he always encouraged us to keep going forward.”
Leo Twyman Profilet
Born: July 29, 1928, in Cairo, Ill.
Died: Jan. 30, 2004, in Los Altos
Survived by: His wife, Sue Profilet of Los Altos; daughters Cathy Shibayama of Seattle and Jana Scott of Apple Valley; sons Peter Profilet of Dallas and Leo Profilet Jr. of Denver; brothers Louis Profilet of New Bern, N.C., Steve Profilet of Winona, Minn., and Joe Profilet of Bloomington, Ill.; and three grandchildren.
Services: Private services, locally and at Arlington National Cemetery, will be held in the spring.
Memorial: Contributions in retired Navy Capt. Leo Profilet's name can be sent to Disabled American Veterans, Box 14301, Cincinnati, Ohio 45250-0301. Burial in Arlington National Cemetery is April 2lst at 3:00. Part of Leo's service included a picture of Leo as he stepped off his “Homecoming Flight” and up to a microphone. (see above photo). On the reverse it said:
He's Going Away
Here I lie
Beneath a star,
Thinking of a land afar,
Yhinking of a time once passed,
And now a time
That came too fast.
A picture of a smiling face,
Remembrance of a warm embrace,
A waving hand,
A windblown kiss,
I will always miss.
By Jana (Peach) Profilet, Age 13, For Dad – Spring 1967
At the Time of Leo's Deployment to Viet Nam
PROFILET, LEO T
- CAPT US NAVY
- VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 04/30/1960 – 04/30/1980
- DATE OF BIRTH: 07/29/1928
- DATE OF DEATH: 01/30/2004
- DATE OF INTERMENT: 04/21/2004
- BURIED AT: SECTION 54 SITE 5265
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard