National POW/MIA Recognition Day
When is National POW/MIA Recognition Day?
National POW/MIA Recognition Day his an American holiday that recognizes prisoners of war (POW), as well as those form the armed services that are missing in action (MIA). The holiday came about after the Vietnam War, and is currently celebrated every third Friday in September. This is a special time that all Americans can recognize the sacrifices made by the armed forces, especially those who never made it home.
The first National POW/MIA Recognition Day was held on July 18, 1979. It was observed on a few different dates until September 1986, when the holiday was changed to the third Friday of that month. Since then, National POW/MIA Recognition Day has always been held on that Friday in September. While not a government holiday, this gives related institutions as well as businesses to publicly recognize the day while people are at work. Every year, the President of the United States holds a special speech and ceremony in honor of National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
One of the most powerful symbols of National POW/MIA Recognition Day is the flag. While the American flag is always flown on this holiday, citizens also fly the POW/MIA flag. It was developed by Newt Heisley in 1971 to honor men who went missing or were imprisoned during the Vietnam War. Heisley himself had served in the Air Force during World War II, and his own son was in the Marine Corps preparing to enter the Vietnam War at that time. As a commercial artist in New York City, Heisley was following a client’s orders to create the flag design.
The resulting design was a black flag with a silhouette of a man’s face and chest in the center of a white circle. In the background, there is barbed wire fencing and a guard tower, made to symbolize the man’s imprisonment. Above the circle reads: POW*MIA, and below it: “You Are Not Forgotten.” While the flag was certainly personal to Heisley, he didn’t know that the design would become the ultimate symbol of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. It also became the official symbol of National POW/MIA Recognition Day, and is flown below the American flag every year. Some citizens also fly this iconic flag during Veterans Day and Memorial Day, while others fly it all year round.
Celebrations and Observations
National POW/MIA Recognition Day is primarily a day of observation. The idea of the holiday is different than other Armed Forces recognition days, such as Memorial Day, because it recognizes serving members who don’t make it back home – dead or alive. Not knowing the outcome of a loved one fighting oversees is heartbreaking, especially if you don’t have the opportunity to give him or her a proper burial. In this respect, National POW/MIA Recognition Day also honors the families of those missing or imprisoned in war.
Communities across the country fly the POW/MIA flag, and many also put on special ceremonies to honor those soldiers in the Armed Forces. Memorial services may also be held for members who remain missing in action.
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