The cheap, cerise-colored, aluminum bracelet on her right arm was battered and worn. Every day for the past 25 years, Vera Creed of Port Charlotte, Fla. has had it on.
“LCDR Barton S. Creed U.S. Navy 3/13/71 LAOS,” the inscription on the Prisoner of War bracelet reads. It’s a reminder of her son who was shot down over Laos during the height of the Vietnam War.
“I don’t know why I still wear it,” she said. “I guess it’s sentiment. I’ll never take it off. I know he’s not alive. I have not thought of such a thing, but the bracelet is just part of him.”
Vera Creed is one of the 2,154 families in the United States who still has a son listed officially as Missing In Action from the Asian war, according to the National League Of Families Of American Prisoners and Missing In Southeast Asia. The league is a pressure group that champions the POW/MIA cause.
Currently it supports the Foreign Relations Authorization Act restricting funds for normalizing relations with Vietnam until the president certifies Vietnam is “fully cooperating” with the United Sates on POW/MIA matters. This proposal is expected to receive a final vote in the House April 24.
In related action, Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Department of Defense POW/MIA Office, said recently the government’s updated missing persons law, just passed by Congress, will make it easier for MIA families to provide input to the necessary federal review board that determines the status of those missing. The revised law also provides that someone listed as missing in action be represented by an attorney, which is new.
“I think our government really wants to find out about our MIAs,” Creed said. “Recently, the Vietnamese have been very helpful because this country has done a lot of things for them. They want all the aid they can get from us.”
Despite the battered, old bracelet she wears and despite her son’s medals and pictures scattered around her apartment, Creed admits some of the small details of her son’s downing a quarter century ago aren’t as easy to recall as they once were.
“He had flown over 100 missions when he was shot down, and he had only been in Vietnam from November til March,” she said. “It was a very bad time. We had a lot of losses.
“Just the day before he was lost, Barton told someone, ‘It’s getting pretty bad out there. Somebody’s going to get it,'” his mother recalled. “He was the one to get it.”
The young Annapolis graduate was flying his A-7 single-seat Navy fighter-bomber over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. The enemy was moving large volumes of supplies down the trail at night to support its guerrilla forces in Vietnam. His group, Attack Squadron 113 flying off the carrier U.S.S. Ranger, hit them with everything it had. In the shootout, his plane was struck by ground fire, and he was forced to eject.
“He arrived safely on the ground,” his mother said. “For two or three hours the search and rescue team talked to him. Barton told them he had a broken leg and a broken arm because of the ejection.”
Four attempts were made that night to rescue him. The last time, one member of the rescue team almost reached the ground when he was shot by enemy fire. The helicopter had to evacuate the area immediately and take the injured soldier back to base for medical treatment.
“His last words were, ‘Pick me up now, pick me up now. They’re here,'” she said. “They left Barton on the ground to deal with the enemy. They had to.”
The search and rescue team flew off with its own injured man. When they returned the next day, looking for Creed, all they discovered was his parachute spread out on the ground.
“They were sure he was captured alive,” Verna said. “For two years, we presumed he would come out of Laos alive. We were shocked when the list of prisoners was released, and his name wasn’t on it.”
In the intervening decades his two children, Scott and Judith, who were 4 and 5 when their father was first reported missing, have grown up. Both graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, too. Judith is serving aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz, currently on deployment in the South China Sea. She is in charge of the carrier’s maintenance section. Scott flies an F-18 fighter-bomber for NATO from a base at Aviana, Italy.
Their grandmother in Port Charlotte is proud of all of them. But she is especially proud of the part her son played in the war in Vietnam.
Stacked on an end table next to the couch in the living room of her apartment are several heavy, blue binders containing Barton’s commendations. They include:
* The Distinguished Flying Cross
* Bronze Star
* Air Medal
* Purple Heart
“The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously to Lt. Cmdr. Barton S. Creed,” the award reads.
“On 13 March 1971, he participated in an aerial fight as a pilot of a jet aircraft in Attack Squadron 113 embarked from the U.S. Ranger during a combat operation against a hostile force in Southeast Asia,” it notes. “Lt. Cmdr. Creed delivered all his bombs on the assigned target and then volunteered to make a strafing run on trucks discovered by the forward controller. In the face of the enemy fire, he pressed his attack and succeeded in scoring direct hits on one of the trucks before his aircraft was hit by ground fire and he was forced to eject.
“Lt. Cmdr. Creed’s outstanding courage, airmanship and total devotion to duty reflects great credit upon himself,” the commendation says. “It is in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Navy.”
Across the living room, on another end table in her apartment, is a gray, plastic model of an A-7 like the one her son flew a long time ago. Its left wing tip is broken off, and a landing gear and wheel lie in a metal ashtray on the table.
It could have been a plane he built for his son, Scott, before he was shot down in a no-win war in Southeast Asia that still haunts the memories of hundreds of MIA families throughout the country.
Name: Barton Sheldon Creed
D.O.B: 3 April 1945
Hometown: Peekskill NY
Date of Loss: 13 March 1971
Country of Loss: Laos
Status (In 1973): Prisoner of War
Unit: USS Ranger
Rank: Lieutenant Commander
Commendations: Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart
Spouse:Susan Page Creed Percy
Children: Capt. Scott Sheldon Creed, USMC; Page, like her brother Scott, graduated from Annapolis and served five years in the Navy as an F/A 18 maintenance officer.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper on Sunday, April 14, 1996. It is republished to the web with permission.