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US honors 82,000 missing service members on National POW/MIA Recognition Day

A POW/MIA flag flies over Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 15, 2014, in remembrance of the nation's prisoners of war and missing in action. (Dennis Rogers/U.S. Air Force)
September 17, 2021

Every year on the third Friday of September, America observes National POW/MIA Recognition Day, as a day of recognition for those missing servicemen and women who never returned home from the battlefield.

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s (DPAA) current estimates, more than 81,600 Americans remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars and other conflicts. Approximately 75 percent of the losses are believed to be located in the Indo-Pacific, and more than 41,000 of the missing are presumed lost at sea.

POW/MIA Recognition Day is one of six days throughout the year Congress has mandated the flying of the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag, according to the DPAA.

According to the Department of Defense, the U.S. has held the day of remembrance since 1979, as an effort to remain accountable for some 2,500 prisoners of war and other service members then missing since the Vietnam War. Since then the day has grown to recognize all missing service members.

Today the POW/MIA flag can be seen flying on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools and veterans’ facilities.

According to HistoryNet, the POW/MIA flag was commissioned in 1971 by Mary Hoff, the wife of missing Navy Pilot Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hoff. Mary became a member of the National League of POW/MIA Families after her husband went missing in action on January 7, 1970.

The flag started out as a symbol to the National League of POW/MIA Families, but eventually gained recognition on a wider scale, after being flown over the White House in 1982.

She reportedly commissioned Annin Flagmakers of Verona, N.J., one of the country’s oldest flag makers, to make the flag. The project was reportedly given to one of the company’s employees, a World War II veteran named Newton F. Heisley.

Along with the flying of the flag, various other remembrances have also been adopted, such as  U.S. pilots flying in the “missing man” formation.

Many military installations have also adopted a “missing man” table as a symbol for prisoners of war and those missing in action.

The display begins with an empty chair, for the missing service member, placed at a round table to symbolize the everlasting concern for their fate.

The table is set with a white cloth, to symbolize the pure motive of serving one’s country. The table is adorned with several other symbols, such as a single red rose to symbolize the blood spilled in furtherance of that motive, a slice of lemon to as a symbol of the bitter fate of those captured and missing, and a pinch of salt symbolizes the tears shed on their behalf. There is also and an inverted glass symbolizes the inability to share in a toast.

The symbols set on the table also include a single lit candle to represent continued hope and a yellow ribbon that stands for continued determination to find those still missing or captured. The table sets can be seen throughout the country, with members of various services, and even student members of the NJROTC standing watch over the displays.