As part of the Sounds of Freedom event June 13 in Layton, Yvonne Bauder, of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, presented Farmington’s Jay Hess with a silver-toned Vietnam War POW bracelet she wore as a youth — while Hess was being held as a prisoner of war in Hanoi after his plane was shot down in 1967.
The inscription on the bracelet reads “Maj. Jay Hess” and the date he was shot down, 8-24-67. Upon Hess’ release and return home to the state in 1971, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, a rank that he held when retiring from the Air Force on Nov. 1, 1973.
Bauder and her late older sister, while living in Fort Worth, Texas in 1970, each purchased a $3 bracelet with a Vietnam War POW’s name inscribed on it.
For three years, Bauder said, she wore her bracelet and checked — in the Fort Worth Telegram each Sunday — the names of those POWs released and returning home. Having grown up with jets flying overhead from what was then Carswell Air Force Base — now General Dynamics due to Base Realignment and Closure — she said she always had an interest in those serving the country.
“I truly did pray over him,” said Bauder, the daughter of a Marine father who insisted his children respect the American flag and the military.
And while Bauder prayed, Hess was held in a prisoner of war camp in Hanoi, undergoing torture and near dehydration at times.
But after three years, Bauder said, she took the bracelet off and set it aside in her jewelry box, occasionally coming across it, but never making a concentrated effort to find out if Hess was among the living.
Until Memorial Day 2015.
Bauder said that day she was inspired to wear the bracelet. And, when she did, she had several people inquire about the jewelry, and who Major Jay Hess, the name inscribed on the bracelet, was. Their interest piqued her interest, so she looked up Hess’s phone number and called it, but couldn’t reach him.
It was then, through the use of social media, Bauder said she was able to reach Major Kit Workman, who is with the Utah Military Academy in Riverdale.
“Something pushed for me to research,” said Bauder, who came across an article online, with Workman’s name in it, describing how the Utah Military Academy had dedicated a hall bearing Hess’s name.
Workman said he was contacted by Bauder, who indicated she had purchased a Vietnam War POW bracelet that had Hess’s name on it, and that she wanted to return it.
But because Broken Arrow is about 1,200 miles from Layton, and flights were $500 each, Bauder said, she instead mailed the bracelet to Workman, along with a two-page personal letter to Hess.
“Faith in God includes faith in his timing,” said Bauder, who is hoping her letter expresses to Hess that he was never forgotten.
“I just feel so blessed that he is here and I am able to do it. It’s not about me. It’s about him. That is all it has ever been about,” said Bauder, the Fort Worth, Texas native in her Southern drawl.
Bauder, a religious woman, said she just couldn’t feel good about keeping the bracelet. “It’s not mine, I just borrowed it,” she said.
The purpose of the bracelets was to return them to the POWs when they got home, Workman said. “There were thousands of these bracelets.” But with the lack of Internet and social media at the time, she never knew the status of Hess, Bauder said.
“After all these years. It was kind of weird how it all came together,” said Workman.
After reading about Bauder in the local newspaper, Layton Mayor Bob Stevenson and his wife personally bought Bauder a plane ticket to Saturday’s celebration.
When in high school, Stevenson said, he can recall the local celebration when Hess was released as a POW in 1971 and returned home to Davis County.