When you see that familiar black flag waving, what does it make you think about? Today is National POW MIA Recognition day. More than 1,600 soldiers are still missing and their families deserve to know where they are. We take this day to remember those whom did not make it home. It is important to remember that these heroes sacrificed more for their country than most of us ever will.
The National League of POW MIA Families is the leading organization in the recovery of these lost souls. The League’s sole purpose is to obtain the release of all prisoners, the fullest possible accounting for the missing, and repatriation of all recoverable remains of those who died serving our nation during the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia. In the past, the U.S. Government encouraged families of missing soldiers to refrain from publicly discussing their issues in the interest of keeping a low profile. One of the POW’s wife thought this was unjustified and initiated a loosely organized movement, which later evolved into the National League of POW MIA Families.
In 1971, Mrs. Michael Hoff, a member of the league, and Norman Rivkees, vice president of Annin & Company, worked together to create the black POW MIA flag. In March of 1989, the flag flew over the White House. In a demonstration of bipartisan Congressional support, the leadership of both Houses hosted the installation ceremony.
In every military chow hall, an empty chair sits off to the side with a place setting. Symbolic items meant to help us never forget what these men gave up fill the table. Traditionally, a ceremony takes place to commemorate the missing. The table’s small size represents the frailty of one prisoner against his oppressors. The white tablecloth symbolizes the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms. The rose represents the families of the missing. The red ribbon is reminiscent of the red ribbon worn on the lapels of those who bear witness to their unyielding determination to demand a proper accounting for our missing. The lemon reminds us of their bitter fate. The salt on the plate symbolizes the tears of the families. The inverted glass reminds us the service member cannot toast with us. The empty chair reminds us they are no longer here.
Ongoing efforts to recover the remains of missing soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines continue to this day. By the late 2000s, the concerned parties recovered and identified the remains of over 700 Americans killed in Southeast Asia. Efforts continue to recover nearly 1,800 Americans who remain unaccounted for.