RACINE — Sam DuVall often finds collectibles while working his job for Vassh Excavating & Grading Inc. He said he has an assortment of old Racine bottles.

So when DuVall, a project manager for the company, was helping demolish the site at 1500 N. Memorial Drive and saw something shiny within the rubble near a wall he was knocking down, he was naturally curious.

Sam DuVall uses an excavator

Sam DuVall, project manager with Vassh Excavating, uses an excavator to move rubble at 1500 N. Memorial Drive in Racine Friday afternoon. Vassh Excavating is taking down the buildings located on the property.

Upon further inspection, he discovered it was a Prisoner of War/Missing in Action bracelet engraved with the name of James K. Patterson. Now DuVall and other Vassh staffers are hoping to connect the bracelet with its owner, or at least the family of its owner.

“If I find something, I usually pick it up,” DuVall said. “That’s something we don’t normally find.”

Sam DuVall with bracelet

Vassh Excavating & Grading Inc. project manager Sam DuVall poses Tuesday afternoon with the POW/MIA bracelet he found among the rubble of 1500 N. Memorial Drive. The name on the bracelet is James K. Patterson and Vassh Excavating is hoping to connect the bracelet with its owner.

A POW/MIA bracelet is a nickel-plated or copper commemorative bracelet engraved with the rank, name and loss date of an American serviceman captured or missing during the Vietnam War.

Many people have commented on Patterson’s online memorial pages, sharing memories or asking for Patterson to come home. According to, a site dedicated to the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1963, Patterson served in the U.S. Navy as a pilot and lieutenant commander and went missing on May 19, 1967. He was originally from South Pasadena, California.

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James K. Patterson and George "Luck" Patterson

James K. Patterson is shown in Vietnam with his brother, George “Luck” Patterson, who was a marine officer stationed there. Instead of going to Hong Kong, James, or “Jim” spent his rest and recuperation flying combat missions over the North with his brother in Vietnam.

He crashed on land and badly broke his leg. He maintained radio contact with rescue personnel for a period of three days, May 19, 20 and 21. The rescuers couldn’t raise him on the radio on May 22 and canceled further rescue efforts.

Leaving Hawaii

James K. Patterson stops for a photo before leaving Hawaii, circa November 1966.

He was thought of as captured by Russians, one of the memorial pages said. His body was never recovered.

“That’s what makes it even more interesting, you get to know the guy,” Co-owner Sarah Vassh of Vassh Excavating said. “There’s a lot of history with him, he’s got a whole story.”

The Vasshes researched Patterson’s life to hopefully find a family with whom to connect the bracelet. Sarah mentioned her great-grandfather was veteran.

Among the rubble

Vassh Excavating & Grading Inc. project manager Sam DuVall found this POW/MIA bracelet among the rubble of 1500 N. Memorial Drive. The name on the bracelet is James K. Patterson and Vassh Excavating is hoping to connect the bracelet with its owner.

She and other Vassh staff hope to “do more good than we can now” just holding onto the bracelet.

“Hopefully somebody misses it,” she said. “I’m thinking someone in his family worked here at one point and lost it. There’s some history in this building.”

Besides the POW/MIA bracelet, Vassh Excavating employees have found numerous documents at the site, dating as far back as the 1920s. They’ve also found some underground tunnels that weren’t previously noted on site maps.

If Vassh can connect with the owner, the company would pay for shipping, Sarah said.

“That would be awesome to give it back to them,” Vassh said, noting it’s a good feeling to find it, but “if we can reunite him with this, it would make me feel even better. It’s so special; it’s not just a shoe or something. It’s something memorable.”

“If anything it’s a memory of somebody, a keepsake,” DuVall said. “I hope this would bring them some kind of closure if they don’t (ever) find his body.”

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