CLEARWATER — Dredging is dirty work, but it can offer up the occasional treasure.
Around Memorial Day, a potent symbol of wartime sacrifice appeared out of the sand and muck hauled out of Stevenson Creek.
A copper bracelet, engraved with the name of a Vietnam War prisoner of war, emerged from the random bits of debris.
That isn't the norm. Usually, it's sticks, stones and things people throw away to stay lost.
"We find lots of guns," said William Coughlin, chief operating officer for Gator Dredging, a Clearwater company that is finishing up a $4.2 million, six-month project dredging the estuary near the border with Dunedin.
Company officials set out to find out more about the man whose name was on the bracelet — Air Force Maj. Glenn Wilson, who was shot down in August 1967 over North Vietnam.
The bracelet likely dates from the early 1970s when millions of the them were sold for a couple of dollars to raise awareness about thousands of Americans who were captured or missing during the Vietnam War.
After some research, Gator Dredging contacted Wilson's family in Texas and mailed the bracelet to them.
Jay Hart, the husband of Wilson's daughter, Leslie, said the memento of his father-in-law's harrowing sacrifice was totally unexpected, especially so close to Memorial Day.
"It really moved us," he said.
After being shot down in an F-4C Phantom during his last mission, Wilson served nearly six years in Vietnamese prisons, the last bit of that time with future Sen. John McCain, Hart said.
He was a prisoner of war until March 1973, when he returned home with hundreds of other POWs.
Wilson retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel and died in the late 1980s of skin cancer.
It wasn't the first POW bracelet with Wilson's name given to the family.
In the first years after her father's return, hundreds of bracelets were given to the family, said Leslie Hart.
"We have bags of them," she said.
But many years went by between that initial rush and 2008, when a West Virginia woman delivered a bracelet to Wilson's widow that she had bought in 1971, according to the Charleston Daily Mail.
The bracelet from Stevenson Creek arrived at the Harts' home in New Braunfels, near San Antonio, the day after Memorial Day.
Knowing it was on the way, Hart said, sweetened the holiday for the family.
"It made it a little more special," he said.
Wilson never lived in Florida nor did he have any ties to Clearwater as far as his family knows.
And they are curious about the person who bought the bracelet and how it ended up in Stevenson Creek.
"It's pretty unbelievable. It was amazing after all these years," said Leslie Hart.
Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow @CharlieFrago on Twitter.