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Missing but Not Forgotten

POW/MIA flag

“A symbol of our unswerving commitment to resolving the fate of all servicemen still missing.”

by Darlene Richardson, Historian, Department of Veterans Affairs
Thursday, September 19, 2013

This Friday, September 20, 2013, marks the 34th annual observance of National Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Recognition Day in America.

Since our country’s beginnings, hundreds of soldiers, sailors and Marines who left their homes to fight America’s wars were imprisoned and held against their will by our enemies, or they never returned home; their fates, as yet, unknown.

Roughly 16 million Americans served in World War II, and at the end of the war 79,000 were missing. Today, 73,000 from World War II remain missing and unaccounted for.

In the Vietnam War’s aftermath, over 2,500 Servicemembers were missing and their families pressed the government for action. While the military continued its efforts to locate and account for all of the missing, a joint resolution of Congress and a presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter called on the nation to remember those who had not returned home and pronounced July 18, 1979 as the first National POW/MIA Recognition Day in the U.S.

 …to rekindle the memory of the sacrifices these individuals have made for their country. 

This special day of remembrance was established to “honor those Americans who have been prisoners of war and those listed as missing in action…and to rekindle the memory of the sacrifices these individuals have made for their country and our indebtedness to them.”

This annual commemorative day was originally held in April or July, until 1986, when it was observed on the third Friday in September for the first time. The designated day for the national recognition is determined each year by a joint resolution of Congress, followed by a Presidential proclamation and has been observed in late September since 1986.

Many VA medical centers will be holding special ceremonies this week to honor POW/MIA Americans. Find your local VA facility here.

Former POWs watch a screen showing military prisoners

Many VA medical centers will be holding special ceremonies this week.

The POW/MIA flag

The first mention of a POW/MIA flag was made in the March 14, 1983 proclamation by President Ronald Reagan: “On April 9, 1983, a POW/ MIA Flag will fly over the White House, the Departments of State and Defense and the Veterans Administration as a symbol of our unswerving commitment to resolving the fate of all servicemen still missing.”

Two years later, the 1985 annual proclamation requested display of the POW/MIA flag at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. In 1988, display of the POW/MIA flag was expanded to the Selective Service System headquarters.

The National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag became an official national symbol in 1990.

In 2001, President George W. Bush expanded the POW/MIA flag requirement to all military installations and in 2009 President Barack Obama added U.S. post offices.

You can read about the history of the POWMIA flag here.

In our modern era, many former prisoners of war walk among us on a daily basis and we call them “Veterans.” They represent us in Congress, we work alongside them and they are part of our own families. For the families and friends of approximately 83,580 soldiers, sailors, Marines and aviators who have not returned from war, their silent, yet hopeful vigil continues as they await news of their missing loved ones.