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East Bay Woman Ends 38-Year Vigil For MIA Vietnam Veteran

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Kathy Strong of Walnut Creek has worn a bracelet with the name of missing Vietnam War soldier James Moreland since Christmas Day 1972. (CBS)

Kathy Strong of Walnut Creek has worn a bracelet with the name of missing Vietnam War soldier James Moreland since Christmas Day 1972. (CBS)

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MONTEVALLO, Ala. (CBS News) — After 43 years missing in Vietnam, the recently identified remains of an elite Army Green Beret soldier finally made it home. Among those at his memorial was a Bay Area woman who wore a bracelet with the soldier’s name for more than 38 years.

“We thank you today Lord, that James Leslie Moreland has returned to the land where he came from,” the preacher said Saturday.

The service marked an end to four decades of uncertainty for Moreland’s friends, family and one totally devoted, total stranger: Kathy Strong of Walnut Creek.

Strong never knew James Moreland – but will never forgot him either. “I made a promise and I wanted to keep it,” she said.

james moreland 051611 East Bay Woman Ends 38 Year Vigil For MIA Vietnam Veteran

Army Green Beret James Leslie Moreland was mortally wounded in Vietnam in 1968. His remains were found and buried in 2011. (CBS)

It was a promise she made Christmas Day 1972 when Kathy, then 12 years old, got a metal bracelet in her stocking. It was one of those MIA-POW bracelets which were a popular fad in the 1970s. Each bracelet bore the name of a soldier who was either still a prisoner in Vietnam or missing in action. The idea was to wear the bracelet until your veteran came home.

Strong took the commitment more seriously than most. As her photos can attest – long after the other kids had moved onto bell bottoms and moon rocks, Kathy was still wearing her bracelet.

Strong said she has never taken it off. “Nope, had an MRI, had to keep my arm out of the machine, that was difficult,” she added. She was determined to only take it off for him.

“They showed footage back in the day of the soldiers coming off the planes and I always thought ‘I’m going to be there and have him put it on his arm,’ and that’s how I always pictured it,” Strong said. “But that wasn’t meant to be.”

Over the years Strong has really gotten to know James Moreland through his two surviving sisters — who invited her to sit with them at the funeral. Strong also got special recognition Saturday from Col. Paul Longgrear, Moreland’s commanding officer, and perhaps Kathy’s biggest fan.

“This is quality that we just don’t hardly find in America anymore,” Longgrear says. “A commitment to her word even though she was a child.”

For too many of us, “supporting the troops” is nothing but lip service. Patriotism nothing but what we wear on our sleeve. Strong, however, with her bracelet, has shown us what being a truly proud American entails.

And finally, as for that bracelet, Kathy did with it what she always said she would. The morning before the funeral she took it off and slipped it on the sleeve of Moreland’s uniform.

“It’s going to be hard. It’s going to take some getting used to,” she said. But I’ve come to learn that whether I’m wearing his bracelet or not, he’ll always be with me every day of my life.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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