Aluminum band commemorates fallen soldiers

Web-posted Saturday, January 1, 2005

Military bracelet sells well

Aluminum band commemorates fallen soldiers

By Brandi Grissom

The Associated Press

AUSTIN - A message from a stranger hundreds of miles away nearly brought Kristi Mann to tears.

On a Web site memorializing Mann's brother-in-law who died in Iraq in 2003, someone in Florida wrote: "Today I received a bracelet with James Powell's name engraved on it. I will wear it with pride, remembering always that he died for me. HE IS NOT FORGOTTEN."

Powell, an Army specialist, is one of thousands of fallen U.S. service members memorialized on Hero Bracelets. The black aluminum bands are among the latest "cause bracelets" like the yellow "Live Strong" bands popularized by Lance Armstrong to raise money for cancer programs.

"My heart just melted when I read that," said Mann, of Mineral Wells, whose husband, a Navy cook, is expected to leave for Iraq within a year. After reading the account, she ordered seven of the bracelets for her family.

Others around the country have rushed to buy the bracelets as well - so much so that 1,000 requests a day were coming in just before Christmas and the Austin man who sells them had to quit taking orders on his Web site.

"We are way, way, way out of our league," said Chris Greta, 46, who sells the bracelets from his small advertising agency. For now he only fills orders that arrive in the mail, though he's hoping to get Web sales going again in January.

Each bracelet is engraved with a service member's name, hometown and date of death. Greta said $2 from each $8.50 sale benefits soldiers' families. The remaining $6.50 covers manufacturing and administrative costs, he said.

Greta created the Web site last month. He said he had been searching for a way to support troops in Iraq when he said he recalled the POW/MIA bracelets popular during the Vietnam War.

Greta said he has sold nearly 4,000 bracelets and sends $2 from each sale to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which gives financial assistance to families of service members killed in action.

"This is a wonderful way to bring appreciation, recognition and gratitude to soldiers who lost their lives and to those soldiers' families," said Bill White, president of the Intrepid Foundation.

Greta is happy about the success but overwhelmed by the task. He said he wants a veterans group or other organization that can handle such an operation to eventually take over.

Until he finds that group, Greta keeps plugging away, filling orders with the help of his family and neighbors.

Keeping up with the thousands of orders has been difficult, Greta said. But reading and responding to e-mails from soldiers and their families has been emotionally devastating.

Many have brought him to tears.

One woman with a 19-month-old son asked whether her husband's name could go on a bracelet after he returned safely from Iraq then committed suicide. A commander who lost six men ordered bracelets for the rest of the soldiers in his unit. A mother ordered a bracelet the day she learned of her son's death.

"How do you deal with that?" Greta asked.

Knowing he is in some way helping soldiers and their families helps.

"We've pulled off a miracle in a real short time," he sa