You Are Not Forgotten -- that's the central phrase behind the POW/MIA remembrance movement that honors America's prisoners of war, those who are still missing in action and their families.
Many of our service members suffered as prisoners of war during several decades of varying conflicts. While some of them made it home, tens of thousands more never did.
POW/MIA Recognition Day is commemorated on the third Friday of every September, a date that's not associated with any particular war. In 1979, Congress and the president passed resolutions making it official after the families of the more than 2,500 Vietnam War POW/MIAs pushed for full accountability.
During the first POW/MIA Recognition Day commemoration, a ceremony was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., while the 1st Tactical Squadron from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia flew the missing man formation. Most ceremonies since then have been held at the Pentagon, and many smaller observances have cropped up across the nation and around the world on military installations.
The point of POW/MIA Recognition Day is to ensure that America remembers to stand behind those who serve and to make sure we do everything we can to account for those who have never returned.
American POW numbers according to a Congressional Research Service report:
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 83,114 Americans who fought in those wars are still missing, including:
The traditional POW/MIA flag that's well-known across America was created many years before the remembrance day became official. In 1971, Mary Hoff contacted a flag company to create a flag to remind people of POWs and the missing. World War II pilot Newt Heisley designed the now-famous flag. For every POW/MIA Recognition Day since 1982, the flag has flown just below the stars and stripes at the White House – the only other flag to ever do so.
Bracelets also became a popular personal form of remembrance in the 1970s. They're still worn and purchased by families and veterans, reminding us to never forget our prisoners of war and those missing in action.
If you don't feel the need to buy a flag or bracelet, it's still crucial to remember the extreme sacrifices of our POW/MIAs. America's pact to them: That we will take care of them, and no matter how much time has passed, they will make it back home.