Cheryl Griffiths Hunter always knew there must be a face belonging to the name engraved on her "Missing in Action" bracelet.
But she didn't expect to see that face on national television 15 years after she, as a teenager, wore the bracelet to Hillcrest Junior High School in Murray.Ironically, Operation Desert Storm recently united the soldier with the young Utah native.
Like millions of other Americans, Hunter was glued to television news when pictures of American soldiers taken captive in the gulf appeared. Commenting on their capture was U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself a former POW.
"I saw him and said to my husband, Dave, `That's my POW.' I couldn't put it aside. I kept thinking about him," Hunter said.
The wrist-worn forget-me-not retrieved from Hunter's cedar chest confirmed that the senator from Arizona was indeed Lt. Commander John McCain III - the Vietnam vet Hunter had remembered in her prayers for many years.
But until this week, she knew nothing of the pain he experienced as a prisoner of war. Or the contributions he's made to his country since coming home.
Hunter was unaware that the white-haired senator holds the distinction of being the most severely injured pilot ever to withstand the rigors of a North Vietnamese prison camp.
On Oct. 26, 1967, then-Navy pilot McCain took off from the carrier Oriskany on his 23rd air mission - his first fight against the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. Directly over the city, the aircraft's right wing was sheared off by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile.
"As he describes it, he ran into a Soviet-made missile," said Scott Celley, the senator's Washington press secretary.
McCain was forced to eject. He plunged into a lake, breaking both arms and his right leg. Fished out by Vietnamese onlookers, he was dragged ashore and beaten and stabbed by an angry crowd before authorities arrived.
Then for five days he was denied medical attention.
Only when authorities learned that his father was a high-ranking naval officer was McCain tagged the "crown prince" and taken to a hospital, where a cellmate was assigned to nurse him back to health.
"There were occasions they did try to treat him specially to cause discord among the troops, but he refused," Celley said. The uncooperative prisoner was beaten time and time again during several years of solitary confinement. His food was rationed, mail denied.
"Ironic and most painful during his captivity, his father was sending the bombs into Hanoi where his son was being held," Celley said. Admiral John S. McCain Jr. was commander-in-chief of all U.S. armed forces in the Pacific during the Vietnam War.
His son was released from prison camp in March 1973. But years of captivity had taken a physical toll. Wracked by arthritis, McCain still has difficulty bending his right knee or raising his right arm.
But Celley said the highly decorated senator's spirit is high and his resolve strong to help the families of those serving in the gulf.
"It was the reports of the strong support of the American people that kept my morale high and kept me and my fellow POWs going when we were held in Vietnam," McCain said. "We can be proud of our POWs in Iraq today and let them know how much we support them and are working for their rapid return home."
Today McCain is co-chairman of the Deseret Storm Task Force. Because he's the only Vietnam POW in the Senate, he's in great demand by the press. In fact, Celley said McCain received 150 calls from reporters requesting interviews the day the first American POWs were captured in Iraq.
In her home in Las Vegas, Hunter watches the interviews with pride. So do her parents, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Leroy Griffiths and his wife, Pat, of Murray.
Another daughter, Gerri Griffiths, Salt Lake City, also wore a bracelet. But her POW has never been lo-cated.
McCain pushed the Hanoi government to provide more information about those Americans still missing and in 1985 accompanied CBS news broadcaster Walter Cronkite to Vietnam for a special program marking the 10th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.
There at the lake where he had crashed, McCain found a monument erected by the Vietnamese in memory of "the famous air pirate" whose political popularity grew out of his heroism during the Vietnam War.
"I've been going to write him a letter to tell him that I wore his bracelet and it was nice to see he had been able to do so much with life," Hunter said. "So many Vietnam vets had trouble. He has risen above it and done so many good things."