POW Bracelet Leads to Friendship Years Later (William Spencer)

William Spencer’s world turned upside down as he felt his F-4 Phantom hit by a heat-seeking missile fired from an MiG-21 that had come up underneath him. In a split second it began cartwheeling its fiery way to the ground, its tail section and left wing missing.

The 29-year-old Air Force pilot pulled a handle, allowing his fellow crew man to eject. Three-quarters of a second later, he ejected, pulling the strings on his parachute as he descended 15,000 feet into enemy territory.

As he drifted down over North Vietnam, he saw two of the three F-4s he’d been flying with circling above. He reached for his survival radio, hoping to let his family know he was okay: “This is Bass Zero Two Alpha. I’m in a chute. I’m A-OK. See you after the war.”

Captured moments later, he became a Prisoner of War imprisoned in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. And with that, Spencer became the unknowing acquaintance of a high school sophomore named Pat Bruder who would wear a POW bracelet with his name emblazoned on it until the end of the war.

The story didn’t end there, however.

Forty-five years later, while sorting through boxes of old photos and books as she prepared to move from Chicago to Sun Valley, Bruner found the bracelet. Curious, she set out to find the pilot whose bracelet she’d worn for nine months.

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