For 20 years Larry LaCourse of Bushnell kept a POW/MIA bracelet bearing the name of Green Beret Capt. Waren R. Orr Jr. of Kewanee. LaCourse, who got the bracelet at randon, had stopped wearing it in recent years. But this week he retrieved it after learning that the remains of Orr, who was killed in Vietnam in 1968, had been identified.
Green Beret Capt. Warren R. Orr Jr. may have been missing in Vietnam for nearly 40 years, but he definitely wasn’t forgotten back in the United States.
People from across the country who never knew the Kewanee native have kept his memory alive with POW/MIA bracelets, including a Bushnell man who has held onto his for 20 years.
"I probably wore it for five years," said Larry LaCourse, who bought the red, metal bracelet 20 years ago at a VFW-sponsored bracelet drive.
Names of servicemen missing in action were engraved on the metal bands and distributed as a way of never forgetting those who didn’t come back from combat.
Orr’s name and his fate were both unknown to LaCourse, who was given the bracelet at random 20 years ago.
But that all changed when LaCourse read an article in Wednesday’s Journal Star about the U.S. Department of Defense identifying Orr’s remains through DNA testing.
"I haven’t worn this bracelet in probably five years, but I knew I had it," LaCourse said. "It took me about an hour to find it, but when I found it the hairs on my arms stood up."
Orr, 25, was part of a crew evacuating about 150 Vietnamese women and children from the Kham Duc Special Forces Camp near Da Nang on Mother’s Day in 1968. As the plane was taking off, it was pelted with gunfire from the ground and exploded in mid-air, killing everyone aboard.
LaCourse, 48, quickly called his sister at 3 a.m. Thursday to tell her the captain on his bracelet had been identified and would soon be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, with full military rites and honors.
"He seemed pretty emotional to me when he called," said LaCourse’s sister Jeannie Phillips, who lives in Indiana. "He was pretty moved by it."
LaCourse said his first thought was to give the bracelet that has Orr’s rank and other military information to Orr’s father, Warren Orr senior.
"I’m not even sure what to say to him. I don’t know how you send your condolences and thank somebody at the same time," LaCourse said.
Orr senior said Thursday he has received four POW/MIA bracelets engraved with his son’s name from strangers over the years, including one from a New York woman who wore it for more than a decade.
"She wore it 15 years before she died, and I’m wearing it now," he said from his California home.
He’s received others from Texas, San Diego and Illinois.
"I’m kind of proud that people remember him," Orr said. "It makes me feel good."
California resident Greg Orr served with his brother in Vietnam and said he has had several chance encounters with the bracelets.
Greg Orr was wearing a POW shirt when he stopped at a California Taco Bell. The woman behind the counter told him she liked it and said she was wearing a POW bracelet.
The name on the bracelet was his brother’s. He pulled out his wallet and gave the woman a picture of Warren Jr.
"It was just a random stop to get something to eat," he said. "What are the chances of that?"
Through Web sites Greg Orr also found a husband and wife in the Air Force who have worn bracelets with his brother’s name for the past 20 years.
"Even though they never met him, they said it was an honor to wear the name of someone who served and didn’t come back," he said.
He’s also found a professor in Pennsylvania who uses Warren Jr.’s story in class.
People wear the bracelets for many reasons, and LaCourse had his own as well. As the son of a retired military father and seeing two uncles and two cousins go to Vietnam, LaCourse felt the small, metal band could always convey a message even if could not.
"It’s hard to explain," LaCourse said. "I just appreciate being an American and wanted to thank those who died to protect our way of life."
And after talking to Orr senior Thursday afternoon, learning the history behind the name engraved on the metal, LaCourse said he’s changed his mind about sending it to California.
"I think I’m going to keep it," LaCourse said.
Reach Journal Star reporter Kevin Sampier at (309) 346-5300 or email@example.com.