Today, there are more than 83,000 American service men and women – over 33,000 of them Sailors – missing in battle since WWII. Behind that number are thousands of families who have endured the loss and uncertainty of waiting for their loved ones to finally come home. On September 21, we recognize the sacrifices of the missing and those they left behind on National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
The 2012 national theme, “Until they come home,” honors the tireless contributions of POW/MIA families.
The powerful, but simple, black and white design of the POW/MIA flag is one that pays tribute to those individuals.
On six occasions throughout the year, this flag is our visual reminder to remember the sacrifices of POW/MIA service members and their families: Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day and Veterans Day. Civilians are free to display it year-round.
Families have been on the frontlines of bringing POW/MIA service members home in all the major wars of the twentieth century to the present day. The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia formed during the Vietnam War to bring national attention to the mistreatment of captured service members. One of the League’s key founders was Sybil Stockdale, wife of Vietnam Navy pilot and POW James Stockdale (Vice
Her husband survived 7 ½ years in a Vietnamese prison camp, enduring torture and solitary confinement, and worked clandestinely with other prisoners to organize resistance activities. After his return to the U.S., Stockdale became a vice admiral and one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy for his courage, leadership and unyielding warfighting spirit.
Sybil and the League fought hard to end the policy of silence around POW torture and mistreatment. Her influence reached the highest levels of American government – Sybil advised President Nixon and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird on POW issues and was a forceful spokeswoman for POWs at the Paris Peace Talks that ended the war.
The imprint of POW/MIA families is deep. The flag that represents America’s missing and imprisoned warriors was commissioned by the wife of a MIA serviceman and designed by the father of a Marine who fought, but was never captured, in Vietnam. The iconic image of a man’s silhouette against a backdrop of a guard tower and barbed wire, with the powerful words, “You are not forgotten,” has come to represent our commitment – and obligation – to bring all our troops home.
To find out how to set your own missing man table, look for guidance here.
Each year, our nation is called to remember the POW/MIA service members whose bravery and loss supports our own freedom. Tell us about commemorative events in your communities and share your stories. We’d love to hear them.