MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --
Lt. Col. Fredric Moore Mellor was flying his F-101 Voodoo reconnaissance jet when he was shot down and likely captured in North Vietnam on August 13, 1965.
Thirty-seven years later, an up and coming Air Force pilot noticed a vendor selling memorial bracelets outside the Base Exchange. There were many to choose from, but he wanted to honor his service’s heritage. There was only one Air Force bracelet –– it was Mellor’s.
“I put the bracelet on my wrist and it’s been [there] ever since,” said Col. Mark Baran, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Vice Commander.
Now that he is just months from retirement, Baran is reflecting on everywhere the bracelet has been. Mellor was right there with Baran throughout his adventurous career and 5,400 hours of flight, including combat operations.
“It’s been with me to some unique places,” said Baran. “I’ve flown in a helicopter in Iraq at 300 feet, I’ve been to the White House, Karzai’s palace in Kabul, the King of Saudi Arabia’s palace and it’s flown with me on all four airplanes I’ve piloted.”
Early in his career, Baran deployed to areas of conflict, but he and the bracelet remained unscathed.
“I just feel like it’s my good luck charm,” said Baran. “He’s helping me stay safe … You feel like someone is watching over you for all these years, and for me that was Fred Mellor.”
When Mellor’s remains were identified in 2018, Baran realized the bracelet needed to go back to Mellor’s family but he couldn’t bring himself to give it up.
“Fred’s been flying with me all this time,” said Baran. “I don’t want to keep flying airplanes and not have this on my wrist. It’s been on every trip, every deployment, every TDY, every hour that I’ve flown every airplane.”
As Baran was getting closer to hanging up his Air Force flight suit for good, he decided it was time for the bracelet to go to Mellor’s family. A quick Google search would help him find the next owner of the good luck charm.
“I found stories written by Colleen Mellor about Fred going missing in Vietnam, and everything that had happened since then,” said Baran. “One article had an email address at the end of it. I sent her an email and told her the bracelet has been on my wrist for 18 years, but I’d like to give it to the family.”
Colleen Mellor, Fred’s sister-in-law, never actually got to meet Fred but dedicated years to preserving his story.
“There’s not much information out there about what happened to those in Vietnam,” said Colleen. “I couldn’t rest. So, I submitted a story.”
For months after the article published, Colleen was thrilled to see an influx of responses. Just when she thought the story was done, she received a message from Baran.
“I don’t know if it means anything to you, but it means the world to me. It was my good luck charm. Now that I’m no longer going to be flying for the Air Force, I’d like to give it to you upon my retirement,” Baran said, recalling his email to Colleen.
“Mark’s message was a beautiful surprise,” said Colleen. “Every time you think it’s the last chapter, there something else. To get acknowledgement from him meant the world to me. It was almost spiritual.”
Baran said he feels good knowing that his bracelet will be going to the person that protected Mellor’s memory from being forgotten.
“She deserves it more than I do,” said Baran. “I already got my 18 years of safe flying out of it.”
Colleen will hold onto Baran’s bracelet for two-year-old Seamus Munro O’Connell until he can fit into it and learn about his Great Uncle Mellor’s sacrifice.
Baran’s story is a reminder of the significance of honoring service members who died fighting for freedom. Even a worn, etched metal bracelet can keep their memory alive.