Never Forgotten, POW/MIA Recognition Day Salute

You Are Not Forgotten

For the families of war veterans, the power of closure cannot be overstated. For the millions of American military members who have gone to war in service of the nation, most of their families gain this sense of finality, whether their loves ones returned safely or were carried home draped in the Stars and Stripes.

For some, however, the final chapter remains a mystery. Today, thousands of families still harbor lingering questions about what happened to their loved ones who disappeared decades ago.

The Department of Defense states that more than 83,000 service members from World War II through the Vietnam War remain unaccounted for. Those known to have been captured by enemy forces are designated as Prisoners of War. Others are simply labeled Missing in Action.

Symbol of Remembrance
The familiar POW/MIA Flag was first introduced in 1971 by the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, but was not officially adopted through U.S. law until 1990. The black and white flag depicts a service member held in captivity, with barbed wire and a guard tower in the background. The motto “YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN” refers to the families’ and government’s ongoing commitment to resolve the fates of Americans still held prisoner, missing or unaccounted for. While it began in connection with Vietnam, the flag has since been recognized as a symbol for all prior wars. Government and military institutions fly the flag on POW/MIA Recognition Day, as well as Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.

On National POW/MIA Recognition Day, held the third Friday of every September, America pauses to reflect on these veterans’ sacrifices. We pay tribute to the men and women whose whereabouts are still unknown, as well as those who endured unimaginable hardships as enemy prisoners before making it out alive.

Never Forgotten

Though World War II accounts for the greatest number of POW/MIA service members by far (with more than 73,000 still unaccounted for), it wasn’t until after Vietnam that an official day of commemoration began in 1979. The best date to hold the observance remained a matter of debate until 1986, when the third Friday in September was made permanent.

The day is not associated with any particular war, but serves to honor every service member who was captured, lost or left behind. At the same time, the day is an annual proclamation of America’s commitment to take care of its own, no matter how long they’ve been gone.

Proof can be found in the government’s ongoing work to find and recover missing military members, whether still in captivity or long since deceased. In the first half of 2011 alone, the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office identified the remains of more than 20 service members from prior conflicts, the oldest of them lost in 1943. While accounting for these service members cannot change their fates, it does allow generations of family members to finally put their questions to rest.

A Positive Trend

Thanks to the work of DPMO and related services such as the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), the list of unaccounted-for personnel gets smaller every month. Still, nearly 8,000 service members from the Korean War remain unaccounted for, and more than 1,600 from the Vietnam War.

Due to greatly improved procedures and technology in the military, new cases of POW/MIA service members have become increasingly rare in recent wars. Yet they are not entirely a thing of the past.

Every military member who goes forth into battle lives with the possibility, however remote, of being captured or stranded behind enemy lines.

On this day, we offer a special salute to our nation’s lost and unrecovered. And we honor their memories through continued service to the military family.

This content is provided courtesy of USAA.


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