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Bands that Bind

Bracelets honor families’ heroes
Friday, September 16, 2005
Barbara Carmen

Brittany Wheeler shares her bracelet with her daughter Amelia, 19 months.

The band honors her husband and Amelia’s father, Marine Lance Cpl. Chaz E.
Wheeler, who is serving in Iraq.

Julie Barkey wears her heart on her sleeve — and on her wrist — these
difficult days.

Each morning, the Stark County mother of six slips on a flat, black band of
anodized aluminum  in honor of "my Mikey."

"He was an awesome kid, the class clown who loved to make people laugh,"
Barkey said. "He was a good son, a good kid, kindhearted."
He was killed in Iraq on July 7, 2004.

Her bracelet [purchased from], engraved with silver letters,
carries only a few details: "Sgt. Michael Barkey, Canal Fulton, Ohio. National
Guard. 7-7-04" It is enough, she hopes, to inspire remembrance and respect
for her son’s sacrifice.

Brittany Wheeler, of the Far West Side, also wears a bracelet [also purchased from], but for her husband, who is still serving. It reads, "God bless
our hero, LCPL. Chaz E. Wheeler, proudly serving his country in Iraq. Love
yours, Brittany & Amelia." Amelia, 19 months, kissed her daddy goodbye three
weeks ago. The Marine, who enlisted after the Sept. 11 attack, is to return in
six months. Meanwhile, Amelia wiggles the bracelet from her mother’s wrist and
slides it over her own tiny hand. "Da-da, dada," she says.

"The bracelet is on my wrist all day long," said Wheeler, who works for a
car dealership. "I want to be reminded of his picture and how proud I am of
him. And I want people to know what he’s doing for our country."

Like their nickel-plated predecessors — the 5 million MIA/POW bracelets
that sold for $2.50 each in the early 1970s — "hero bracelets" are
encircling wrists across the nation.

Mike Barkey’s father, Hal, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, never
removes the band that bears his son’s name.

Mike was 22 when the truck he was riding in overturned under insurgent fire
near Ramadi, Iraq. His parents searched the Internet for a way to honor him
and ordered from

"We don’t want Mike to ever be forgotten," Mrs. Barkey said.

Bill Stein, a San Antonio engraver, set up in June and has
sold more than 500 bracelets. His are engraved with photos, and he sells
dog tags that families can mail to their loved ones.

One wife wrote: "You are my soldier, my hero, my love."

Another dog tag reads: "My big brother. My hero."

"When I read these messages, I think I’m a big strong guy, but I get tears
in my eyes," Stein said.

The bracelets remind people that the dead are more than numbers, Greta
said. "I wanted people to have an in-your-face reminder that this person
lost everything."

Pam Magni, of Trumbull County, wears two bracelets.

The black one is in memory of her 24-year-old nephew, Sgt. Larry R. Kuhns
Jr., who was killed in a grenade attack in Ramadi, three weeks before he
was to return to his wife and baby.

The green one reads, "Support our Troops."

Her two sons are in Iraq.

Members of the military also are wearing bracelets.

Lt. Col. Beau Dodge, of Dayton, who is in the Air National Guard, returned
from Iraq in January after five months and ordered a bracelet a week later.
He chose the name of a soldier he’d never met, an Ohio man who died at age 22.

Co-workers at the Dayton water department ask him about the bracelet and
learn of the sacrifice of Pfc. Ryan A. Martin, of Mount Vernon, who was
killed Aug. 20, 2004, when a homemade bomb struck his Humvee in Samarra, Iraq.

"This bracelet serves as a constant reminder that there are Americans
willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for freedom," Dodge said. "And it
serves as a reminder that there’s a grieving family, so you can have their
name right there with you to intercede in prayer."
Copyright © 2005, The Columbus Dispatch