Four-decade vigil for MIA Vietnam veteran ends

Hartman Funeral

MONTEVALLO, Ala. - In Alabama this weekend, closure came in a flag-draped coffin. After 43 years missing in Vietnam, the recently identified remains of an elite Army Green Beret soldier finally made it home.

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

PICTURES: After 43 years, MIA in Vietnam War hero buried

CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports the service marked an end to four decades of uncertainty for Moreland's friends, family and one totally devoted, total stranger: Kathy Strong.

Strong never knew James Moreland - but will never forgot him either. "I made a promise and I wanted to keep it," she says.

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.

In fact when we first met her in March - there it was, same place it'd been every second of every day for 38 years.

She says she's 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 says. "But that wasn't meant to be."

Over the years Strong has really gotten to know James Moreland through, his 2 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 says. 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."

National League of POW/MIA Families

The Origin of the POW/MIA Bracelets

Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.