For 65 years, Miriam "Mimi" Burley has worn three silver bracelets. The reasons why could double as a series on the History channel. The story of the silver bangles revolves around World War II, the French Underground, Black Thursday and Maj. Edward Burley, then a U.S. Air Force World War II bombardier and Mimi's fiance.The couple moved to Florida in 1981. Edward Burley died in 2003.
1What do your bracelets represent? "Ed's service in the Mighty 8th, and survival after being shot down behind enemy lines on Oct. 14, 1943," said Burley, 85, a Clearwater resident. "He was a B-17 Flying Fortress bombardier during the second raid in Schweinfurt, Germany. Sixty planes, each carrying 10 men, were shot down on Black Thursday. Many were shot parachuting from burning planes. Ed waited as long as possible to release his chute. He hit the ground, knees knocking into his chest, and could barely answer when someone from the French Underground ran up and asked if Ed was American. The bracelets represent my husband."
2When you look at the bombardier's wings, what do you remember? Burley said she remembers Black Thursday. She had knitted Ed a pair of socks for Christmas and Oct. 14 (1943) was the mailing deadline for packages to England. Ed was shot down that day. Burley sent the package from mailroom of the Buffalo bank where she worked. She learned her fiance was missing in action when upset mail clerks rushed to her carrying the returned box stamped MIA. Ed's parents got the official government word via telegram, which Burley has tucked away.
3Who do you think of when looking at the navigational insignia? "The French family who helped Ed find his way home," Burley said. "Since Ed spoke no French, he had to pretend to be deaf and dumb for two months. The family provided him a false passport and other papers. Eventually they arranged for him to travel aboard a train with a French guide. The two shared a compartment with another incognito American. The Germans checked papers every hundred miles and before nightfall, the other American and Ed's guide were removed and executed. Eventually Ed and other men from the 8th were guided on foot across the Pyrenees mountains. He came home in January. We were married Feb. 19, 1944."
4How did the insignias become silver bracelets? "My father was involved in jewelry making as a hobby," Burley said. "He had the idea and I thought it sounded good. He also turned Ed's 1st lieutenant bars into earrings and once, after we were married, Ed lost his bars. Even though I'd had a B engraved in the earrings, he pinned them on his uniform."
5Why do you still wear the bracelets? "We were married 59 years," Burley said. "Wherever I go people stop and ask about the bracelets. I say Ed had a guardian angel during the war. I recently met an English woman at Heritage Village. We discussed the bracelets, the Mighty 8th and Ed. He was such a good man and we had a wonderful life together. When people ask about the bracelets, I get to share Ed's story and talk about my husband, my hero."