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POW/MIA Bracelet Found in Arkansas Is a Sign of Hope to Family of Missing Air Force Major from Bellefonte

by and on October 14, 2020 4:45 AM
Bellefonte, PA

After John Morgan bought a house in Jasper, Ark., from his parents two years ago, he started rummaging through some old knickknacks they left behind. While doing so, a certain bracelet caught his eye.

It was a silver POW/MIA memorial bracelet honoring U.S. Air Force Maj. Lewis P. Smith II. Morgan asked his mom if Smith was someone she knew and where the bracelet came from.

It turns out that she had found the bracelet a few years ago in Mill Creek, Ark., a touristy swimming spot, according to Morgan.

Morgan used that information and took to the internet to find out more about Smith. There, he came across a May 2019 article published in The Centre County Gazette. The story told of how Smith, a Bellefonte native and Penn State graduate, was shot down in Laos while he was serving in the Vietnam War in 1968. It went on to tell of the painstaking efforts of his family, led by his sister, Deb Burger of Bellefonte, to find him and bring him home.

In the years since his disappearance, a class ring of Smith’s was returned to her and the government said it feels it has the crash site located, but in Burger’s mind, there are still questions that need to be answered.

John Morgan found a POW/ MIA memorial bracelet in Arkansas that has connections to a Bellefonte family. After learning the story of the disappearance of U.S. Air Force Maj. Lewis P. Smith II, he is sending it to Smith’s family. Submitted photo

The location where Smith’s plane is thought to have crashed has since been covered by a reservoir, complicating the search.

The government told Burger that its aim is to dig for her brother’s remains at the presumed crash site sometime in the coming years. But she said it is frustrating dealing with the bureaucracy and people who are working across the globe, searching for numerous missing service members. She said her hope is what drives her action, but her spirits are constantly tested.

The leads she uncovers are often met with bureaucratic hurdles to jump; or, unfortunately, those leads run cold. Currently, Laos will not let a team in to dig because of the global pandemic.

Reading the family’s story hit Morgan hard. His grandfather, USAF Capt. John McCaughan, was a POW during World War II, after a bomber plane he was navigating was shot down over Germany. Morgan’s grandfather was eventually found and was released after the war to return home.

While he can’t help Burger and the rest of her family in the search for Smith’s remains, Morgan wanted to give them something to help them remember the person they miss. He reached out to Gazette staff, who connected him with Burger. After some correspondence, plans were made to send the lost bracelet to Burger.

“I just wanted to return a memory to the Smith family. Finding the bracelet and article on Major Lewis Smith really touched my family and we wanted to return it to where it belongs,” said Morgan.

A POW/MIA memorial bracelet honors Bellefonte native and PSU graduate USAF Maj. Lewis P. Smith II. The bracelet was recently found in Arkansas and is being sent to Smith’s family. Submitted photo

Burger said she has no idea how the bracelet ended up in Arkansas. POW memorial bracelets were made available to anyone and people can request to honor a particular person, or just be sent a bracelet with the name of any missing service member.

Burger is grateful to Morgan. She wears a POW bracelet every day to honor her brother, and said they do sometimes break, so it will be nice to have a spare.

“Now that the next generation — my children and my nieces and nephews — are older, many of them have reached out to me about having extra because they would like one,” said Burger. She hopes that the return of the bracelet might be a sign of more good news in the future.

“There are so many ironic things with John’s family and our story. First, that his grandfather was a POW in WW II, and praise the Lord he was returned. Second, he said they found the bracelet by the river and Lewis was shot down at a river. Feels like divine intervention and I take it as a sign that Lewis’s remains will be returned to us, just like this bracelet is being returned.”



This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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