Missing Olympia soldier inspires Florida woman’s Fourth of July ritual

Olympia resident Nicole Ross was 5 years old when her father went missing in action during the Vietnam War.

In January 1968, Army Sgt. 1st Class James D. Williamson was shot down while riding in a helicopter over Laos. He was 25. Ross and her family finally found closure in 2007. That’s when the remains of Williamson and four comrades were identified following excavations of the crash site.

“Growing up not knowing what happened to my dad, closure was something I never thought would happen,” Ross said.

Over the years, a number of people have contacted Ross about her father, whose name appeared on several commemorative POW/MIA bracelets. The most recent call came this weekend from Jacksonville, Fla., where a complete stranger honored Ross’ father every Fourth of July for nearly 40 years.

Beverly Jackson was fresh out of college when she picked up the POW/MIA bracelet with Williamson’s name. Jackson, who comes from a military family, said the bracelet inspired many prayers for Williamson’s family to find closure for their loss.

During a party July 4, a friend commented on the bracelet, which prompted Jackson to research for updates involving her bracelet’s namesake. Upon learning the new information, Jackson contacted The Olympian this weekend in hopes of connecting with Ross and mailing the bracelet as a token of respect.

“He’s not missing anymore. It belongs to the family,” Jackson said of the bracelet. “For me it was a remembrance. With things going on the past years with Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s more in the front of my mind.”

Ross said she was flattered that Jackson and others have kept the memory of her father alive in the decades since he went missing.

“When my father’s remains were found, quite a few people came out of the woodwork and sent me bracelets or notes or called. One guy found me and showed up at my house one day,” Ross told The Olympian. “It’s pretty amazing to me that some people continue to do this and hold these guys with such honor.”

Williamson, who graduated from Olympia High School in 1960, was officially buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.