Susan Ingersoll was a New Mexico teenager in the early 1970s when she got the MIA bracelet commemorating Redwood Falls missing-in-action veteran William Cook — and now she wants to give it to his home town.
It’s a simple silver bracelet, scratched from many years of wear. Engraved on it are the words, “Lt. Col. William Cook 4-18-68”
“I got the MIA (Missing in Action) bracelet for Christmas one year, I think about 1972. My mother bought one for herself, my sister, my brother, and one for me,” said Susan Ingersoll, 53, last week.
“My father was stationed in Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” Ingersoll said.
The MIA bracelets were popular in the early 1970s as a fundraiser to send delegations to Vietnam to search for missing soldiers.
“The bracelets cost two dollars or so, and were a big thing in our community at Kirkland Air Force Base,” said Ingersoll. “The bracelet was one of my top requests for Christmas.
“My parents were very giving people, and always had a gift at Christmas that was intended to help others, to make the world a better place,” said Ingersoll.
Each bracelet commemorated a different Vietnam-era veteran missing in action.
Ingersoll’s bracelet commemorated a MIA she knew nothing about, William Cook. A story about Cook’s disappearance appeared in the May 2, 1968 Redwood Gazette. It read in part,
“Lt. Col. William R. Cook is missing in action in South Vietnam, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Cook, 727 East Third Street, were officially informed while they were visiting another son in Wiesbaden, Germany....”
“Rescue operations were begun after last radio contact with his (reconnaissance) aircraft were received. Their son may have been captured, the stricken parents were told.
“Cook, 44, is an army career man and pilot. He entered the service after graduating from Redwood Falls High School in 1942.
“His wife and two daughters are in Mountain Home, Idaho. He had been stationed in Saigon about three months.”
Over the next few years, Ingersoll’s mother, brother, and sister each got to see the veteran on their bracelet return home.
“My mom’s veteran now lives in Phoenix, and I know my brother’s lives in Texas. They were able to be there when their veterans came home,” Ingersoll said.
That left Lt. Col. Cook as the only MIA commemorated by the Ingersoll family who didn’t make it back.
Ingersoll wore the bracelet with Cook’s name on it “every day until I went away to college in 1981. The war was over by then, but he was still missing.”
Ingersoll has always had mixed feelings about the idea of meeting any of Cook’s relatives today.
“I’d love to get in touch with his family — if they’d want to get in touch with me. I wouldn’t want to impose, or dredge up bad memories,” she said.
Ingersoll is a retired financial advisor who lives in Westfield, New York, where she is now a full-time sculptor and artist. Her husband is himself a veteran, a former medic.
“My husband and I talked on veterans day about how Lt. Col. Cook was still missing, and I decided to look him up on the Internet.”
Ingersoll did research with the Veterans Administration, and discovered Cook’s airplane was shot down over Vietnam. The pilot of an accompanying plane reported he saw Cook’s body land in a tree.
“(The military) couldn’t declare him deceased because they couldn’t locate and return the body,” said Ingersoll. “I found he was from Redwood Falls, and decided to return the bracelet.”
In late November, Ingersoll contacted Gary Revier, knowing only that he was the mayor of Redwood Falls, not knowing he is also a Vietnam veteran and local history buff.
(Revier reported he is trying to contact Cook’s relatives, but if he can’t locate them the bracelet will be displayed in the Redwood County Museum.)
When she went to mail the package to Revier, “I took the bracelet off my wrist at the post office, and put it in the envelope,” she said.
Not having the physical bracelet anymore is an odd feeling for Ingersoll now.
“I still don’t forget him, and I’m still praying for him — but I feel like a part of my arm is missing.”