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Serendipity unearths Vietnam War memento

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A Vietnam Prisoner of War bracelet that was bought in the early 1970s to honor the servicemen that were captured and found in a box of memories will be returned to the family of Donald Randner who survived his imprisonment but died of lung cancer in 2005.

Bonnie Sperry, the section administrator of the Lawrence-based National Council Jewish Women-Peninsula Section, unearthed the silver metal bracelet and after watching a documentary this summer on the women who went to Paris in 1969 during the peace talks to lobby for the release of their husbands she Googled Rander’s name.

Fortuitously, the NCJW was hosting a virtual talk on Nov. 3 with Heath Lee who wrote the book “The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home.” Sperry shard her story and Lee agreed to put Sperry in contact with Rander’s former wife Andrea, the couple divorced in 1993, who was one of the spouses whose story is part of the book.

“I think that right now in our world in our country there is such sadness and such uncertainty this to me brightened my spirits,” Sperry said about giving the bracelet to Rander and her daughters, Lysa and Page. Sperry mailed the bracelet this week.

Sperry said her parents, Rita and Ben, bought the bracelet to support an organization. She said she remembers the talk around the family’s dinner table in Massapequa, especially with older brothers David and Michael eligible for the military draft. “I am so excited that I tracked down the family and it’s all because of NCJW,” Sperry said.

Rander, originally from the Bronx, attended Adelphi University before working for First National City Bank of New York, Capitol Airlines and British Overseas Airlines. Drafted in 1961, he was a military policeman and served in France and the U.S. Four years later Rander went into army intelligence, became an instructor and volunteered for duty in Vietnam in 1967. He was taken prisoner Feb. 1, 1968 and released March 27, 1973.

Involved in the National League of Families, Andrea said she was the only African-American woman on the board and was sought out by Lee for her work. “We worked diligently and endlessly to finally achieve our goal … to bring our husbands home,” Andrea said about joining forces with other Air Force, Army and Navy wives.

She said loneliness was a huge part of her life the five years Donald was a prisoner, and it was difficult to work full-time and be both a mother and father to her daughters. “Much of the survival mode came from the strength that the wives drew from each other,” Andrea said. “We knew we could keep in touch because we were in the same predicament and would search for answers we could not answer ourselves, especially when news and information was not forthcoming for what seemed like an eternity.”

Sperry said when she told Lee her story it gave the author goose bumps. She just finished her first book on a post-Civil War woman when Lee found the papers of family friend Phyllis Easton Galanti, a Vietnam War POW/MIA (missing in action) activist.

“There was such serendipity in that happening,” Lee said about Sperry returning the Rander bracelet. “The topic of the POW/MIA cause often reminds people to look in their jewelry boxes for those metal POW/MIA they may have always had but have forgotten.”

A wider audience will be able to know the wives’ story as Lee’s book was optioned by actress Reese Witherspoon’s production Hello Sunshine and Sony 300. Lee is an executive producer and consultant on the movie. Filming is yet to begin.