<b>CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq </b>- A silver, metal band on the wrist of Sgt. Ralph D. Gaskin II, a vocalist for the 3rd Infantry Division Band, and a Fort Wayne, Ind., native, glints in the light as he sits in his office at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq. He wears the band engraved with his fallen battle buddy's name, Sgt. Mason Lee Lewis, who died during Sgt. Gaskin's last deployment to Iraq in 2007. Sergeant Lewis was part of, "Top Flite," Company C, 26th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID.

"I wear it in memorial to him," said Sgt. Gaskin. "He was such a great guy, extremely dedicated. He was a hell of a Soldier - hell of a friend. He would do anything for you."

The POW/MIA bracelets, like Memorial Day, are reminders of the sacrifice fallen servicemembers have made for their country. In a way, the bracelets spread May 31, across the calendar year.

"If you're wearing a memorial bracelet, then you've been touched by the situation," Sgt. Gaskin said. "Nine times out of 10 it's somebody that you knew. Every time I see someone else wearing one, I think about mine - I think about Mason."

While many people take jewelry off when they shower or turn in for the night, Sgt. Gaskin never removes his bracelet.

"It never comes off," he said. "I do that out of respect for (Mason) because he was such a great guy and such a great Soldier."

Sergeant Julian Landrove, a floor noncommissioned officer for the COB Speicher Troop Medical Clinic, Company C, 701st Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and San Antonio native, has a similar feeling about what his bracelet means to him.

"I wear it to remember the guys who gave their lives for this operation," he said. "It's a reminder that people are dying out here."

Sergeant Landrove's bracelet is engraved with the name of Spc. Russell Hercules, Jr., a driver during his last deployment to Iraq in 2007. Specialist Hercules gave his life while supporting Operating Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Oct. 1, 2009.

"I wear it so that he can kind of live on," said Sgt. Landrove. "He's not forgotten."

Sergeants Gaskin and Landrove both bought their bracelets from online retailers, which offer their own type of moral support.

MemorialBracelets.com organized in order to help people remember and honor the victims of terrorist attacks, military casualties and Soldiers who have been and still are prisoners of war or missing in action. According to the Web site, MemorialBracelets.com has donated more than $78,000 to help children and Families who have lost loved ones due to terrorist attacks or military conflict.

Another retailer that offers bracelets for remembrance of fallen servicemembers is HeroBracelets.org, founded by Chris Greta. The Web site was organized in 2004 to raise funds for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and has provided more than $200,000 to various military support organizations. According to Greta, the organization has sent more than 100,000 orders all over the world and hears daily from servicemembers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The idea for POW/MIA bracelets first came to light during the Vietnam War. They were meant to draw public attention to American prisoners of war and U.S. servicemembers who were missing in action in Vietnam, and to involve college students in positive programs that supported servicemembers.

More people choose to honor fallen servicemembers be wearing the bracelets. It's a way for them to remember who paid the ultimate sacrifice ... recognizing Memorial Day throughout the year.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16