In some communities across the nation, Friday Sept. 19, 2014 will be observed as National POW/MIA Recognition Day, and appropriate ceremonies will be conducted to honor Americans who have returned from their ordeals as Prisoners of War (POWs) and those Americans who are listed as Missing In Action (MIA) and are still unaccounted for. Sadly, for a majority of Americans, the day will pass as just another Friday before the start of a weekend, because they are unaware of the designation of the third Friday in September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
The National POW/MIA Recognition Day was the creation of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. The League was formed by families who were frustrated by the lack of information regarding the status of family members who had either never been repatriated after having thought to have been held captive in Southeast Asia or who had been listed as MIA and were still unaccounted for. In response to the League’s initiative, Congress passed a resolution authorizing the first-ever National POW/MIA Recognition Day to be observed on July 18, 1979. This became an annual event, and commencing in 1986 and continuing until the present, the recognition day was held on the third Friday in September.
While most national ceremonies have been conducted at the Pentagon, other Washington, D. C. locations such as the White House, Washington Memorial, U.S. Capitol, and the National Mall have been the site for this event. Recognition ceremonies are conducted at all military installations at home and abroad as well as in many communities across America. Prominently displayed during all Recognition Ceremonies is the POW/MIA flag, which was also inspired by the National League.
The POW/MIA flag was designed by Newt Heisley, and it features a white disc bearing the silhouette of a young man, a watch tower with a guard on patrol, and a strand of barbed wire. Above the disc in white letters is written POW and MIA. Below the disc is a black and white wreath above the motto, “You Are Not Forgotten.” This flag played a prominent role in recognition ceremonies, and on August 10, 1990 the 101st Congress passed Public Law 101-355, which officially recognized the League’s POW/MIA flag and designated it “as a symbol of our Nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the Nation”. While subsequent legislation mandates the flying of the POW/MIA flag on certain designated days (i.e. Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day) in addition to National POW/MIA Recognition Day, most national, state, and local governmental agencies routinely fly the POW/MIA flag.
The National League and veterans organizations encourage local communities to plan appropriate ceremonies that honor and recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by the nation’s POWs and those listed as MIA as well as the members of their families
— By Fred Apgar
Fred Apgar is a veteran of the Vietnam War and Past Commander of VFW Post 8870 in Edmonds. This article is one of a recurring series of essays that will provide historical perspective on various U.S. holidays and traditions.