POW-MIA issue not forgotten at Sullivan Brothers museum
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa
WATERLOO, Iowa — Dorothy Ackerson never met Robert Rex, yet the two have been connected for decades.
According to the Grout Museum District, Rex was born in Odebolt in 1941 and was the first person from his hometown to earn an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
He graduated from the academy in 1963 as a second lieutenant and became a pilot a year later. In 1968, he volunteered to serve in Southeast Asia.
In 1969, his plane crashed near the Quang Tri Province in South Korea. His body was never recovered.
In the early 1980s, Ackerson, a Waterloo native living in California, received a POW/MIA bracelet for her birthday from a friend. The red, metal bracelet bore Rex’s name, rank and loss date, March 9, 1969.
Ackerson has worn or carried the bracelet all these years and recently donated it to the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum.
A brief ceremony held at the museum Friday acknowledged the gift while marking National POW/MIA Recognition Day, which is the third Friday in September each year.
About 20 people attended the program, which featured the West High School Junior ROTC color guard.
"Today is a day to remember those who did not return home," Billie Bailey, Grout Museum District executive director, said in her welcome statement. "… 83,300 soldiers, sailors and marines are unaccounted for since World War II."
Kyle Dykstra, a veterans outreach representative with Bruce Braley’s office, read a message from the congressman. Braley, while remembering the state’s prisoners of war and those missing in action, also acknowledged the efforts of those who continue to try to find them.
"I admire and applaud their tireless efforts," he said.
Director of Historical Planning Annette Freeseman detailed the Rex-Ackerson connection and thanked Ackerson for her patriotism.
Ackerson, who wasn’t able to attend the event but participated in a phone interview Saturday, said the decision to donate the bracelet came as a result of attempting to track down a plaque that once hung at West High School.
"In high school, a lot of the boys would drop out of school and enlist," she said. “There were some from West High that didn’t come back. There used to be a plaque remembering them, and it has gone missing."
Ackerson eventually called the museum to ask for help tracking down the plaque and the conversation led to the Vietnam War.
"I told them I had a bracelet, and they told me they didn’t have one," she said.
"I was reluctant to give mine up. It was my way of honoring a Vietnam vet who didn’t come home. But if giving it to them brings more in, it will be worth it. Or if it opens children’s minds and teaches them that there was a war between World War II and Korea."
Ackerson said over the years she would hear of military remains being found and returned to the states. She would make phone calls to find out if it was Rex.
"I still read the newspapers and listen to the news, hoping to hear something about him," she said. "I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime."
Ackerson didn’t know any additional personal information about Rex until she talked with Freeseman at the museum.
"It didn’t matter, though," she said. "I knew he wasn’t home, and I wasn’t going to stop until he was. That was our way of saying 'Look, people care.'
"That was my war, my friends. Some came back and some didn’t.
"If you wore a bracelet, people would ask about it. It started conversations," she said. "The men on those bracelets may not be on people’s arms anymore, but they are in the hearts of people who wore them."