They were young men growing up during the same volcanic time.

From different parts of the country, both enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. But Jack Dean of Edina was honorably discharged during basic training because of a medical condition.

James Hamm of Longmont, Colo., went on to fly missions.

On March 14, 1968, Hamm's F-4 Phantom jet went down in the province of Thua Thien, South Vietnam. He was 24. Hamm was officially declared dead in 1974, although two digs and countless military interviews continued long after. Still, no remains have been found, and Dean cannot rest.

Now 60 and retired after 34 years of teaching middle-school social studies, he still wears Hamm's metal MIA/POW bracelet, acquired for a few dollars in 1972. He said he is determined to rectify his "prehistoric" Internet skills in hopes of finally being led to Hamm's remains. Only then will he remove the bracelet.

"I would take it off tomorrow," says Dean, whose penetrating blue eyes offer a dramatic contrast to his gentle demeanor. "But I made a promise to him and myself that I would look until I found some physical evidence that he is, in fact, dead. I would hope that, if I were in this position, somebody would continue looking for me."