MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It was a reunion more than a quarter-century in the making for two Minnesota families who live thousands of miles away, and they believe Veteran’s Day was the perfect time to share it.
Bobbi White’s aunt wore a bracelet and never took it off. Engraved on that metal bracelet was the name of Air Force Major Thomas Reitmann, who fought in the Vietnam War. She just never knew exactly who he was.
“When I was a kid, she wore it, and I remember her wearing it every day,” said White.
Her aunt had bought the POW/MIA bracelet like many other Americans, not for show, but for remembrance. They were sold by the millions, bearing a military member’s name, either a prisoner or one missing-in-action. They weren’t to be taken off till that military member returned home.
“She’s very dedicated, and she never met this man, and for some reason, she felt ties to him because it was a bracelet and name she carried with her for so long,” said White.
Major Reitmann’s air crew encountered heavy fire during a mission outsideHanoi. He was shot down and captured, a prisoner of war but never to be forgotten.
White called her aunt recently to tell her that it was time to take off the bracelet. News surfaced from the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office that Major Reitmann’s remains were found and positively identified.
According to the DOD, in 2009 and 2011, a local farmer turned over remains and a metal button he claimed to have found in his cornfield. Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA – which matched that of his brother – in the identification of Reitmann’s remains.
“The first thing she said was ‘no way. That can’t be true. No way. She was shocked,’” recalled White about the conversation with her aunt who lives in the Twin Cities.
White researched Major Reitmann’s family and contacted his wife, Carol Sumner, who now lives in Hawaii.
“He loved flying. He loved the Air Force,” said Sumner by phone, adding that he also made another impact on the world. “Tom cared about other people. Really a caring person.”
White and Sumner planned to meet. It just so happened that White had planned a trip toHawaiiwith her husband several months earlier.
“It’s kind of mind blowing,” said White. “My aunt, she says it’s meant to be. It fell into place.”
White, with bracelet in hand, met Sumner for breakfast on the beach.
“I was thrilled to get it,” said Sumner about receiving the bracelet. “And it was so touching, just really touching to have somebody care that long. She must have been amazing.”
She plans to give that bracelet to her grandson when he turns 16 in a couple years. Major Reitmann was dedicated and determined.
White’s aunt served her country long after the war ended. It was her own dedication to a man she never met.