By 1972, the United States had shipped two-thirds of its ground troops to Vietnam since the start of the decade. Karen Taddeo volunteered as a teacher’s aide for her mom’s friend, and the teacher’s son was killed in Vietnam, she says the war really hit home. She saw an advertisement for a prisoner of war bracelet in a magazine and she ordered it.
“I knew the POWs were being mistreated,” Karen remembers as she tells the story to a small group during a lull at her husband’s restaurant, Gulfport Cafe. “The point [of the bracelet] was bringing [that information] to the masses. The premise I was under was, ‘if they come back, you can send it back to them’.”
She wore the bracelet through college, until the United States made the announcement that it would pull troops out of Vietnam. She had no clue whether or not the prisoner whose name encircled her wrist on a metal band made it home.
“I just kind of tucked it in the back on my jewelry box,” she says. Every time she opened the box, she thought of the young man taken prisoner in Vietnam. She tried to find out his fate, but even as recently as a few years ago, she couldn’t track him down. Her husband, Armand, offered to try Googling the name one more time.
Almost 45 years to the day after Captain Lauren Lengyel became a prisoner of war, Karen and Armand found his phone number. Even then, making the call, she says, didn’t come easily to her.
“I needed a day to emotionally get ready,” she says. “Frankly, I was afraid.”
She punched in his number, and a man answered the phone. She told him she was looking for Lauren. He told her he was Lauren.
“He was as floored as I was,” when she told him about the bracelet, she says. “He was excited.”
It turns out Karen wasn’t the only woman who thought of him while he was a POW.
“The woman I’ve been married to for 53 years,” he told her, “is the woman who waited for me.”
After his release, Captain Lengyel returned to the United States and married his girlfriend. They live on a farm and have three sons in Texas. Two of his sons followed his footsteps and joined the Air Force and he was traveling soon, he told her, to pin a silver star on his son’s chest. He’s now 77.
“I would love to send you the bracelet,” she told him. “I wore it the whole time.”
In August, she mailed him the bracelet, just like she vowed to do in 1972.
“It’s like a closure thing to me,” she says.
Thanks to Gulfportian Margo Scannell for tipping us off to this story. Send your news and information to News@theGabber.com. Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.