by Nick Norris

On the third Friday of September, the nation remembers the many American captives and missing. POW/MIA Recognition Day exists so the free and found commemorate the soldiers who were or are not.          

According to a Congressional Research Service Report, 138,103 Americans have been held as prisoners of war since World War II. The Second Great War alone saw 130,201 of these service members taken captive. Another 7,140 soldiers were imprisoned in the Korean War, followed by an additional 725 in the Vietnam War. In conflicts since 1991, 37 Americans have been held as POWs.

These numbers are staggering, yet the sobering statistics do not stop there. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency believe 83,114 American soldiers who partook in the aforementioned wars are still missing in action. Again, World War II accounts for the lump sum of the total with an approximation of 73,515 participating soldiers still lost. The Korean War comes in second with 7,841 Americans missing, followed by 1,626 from Vietnam; 126 from the Cold War; and six others since 1991.

It is believed about 75-percent of those MIA are somewhere in the Asia-Pacific, with more than 41,000 assumed lost at sea.

A table for the Missing Man sits in the Cross Hall Galley on Naval Submarine Base New London in observation of POW/MIA Recognition Day. The table is round, symbolizing our everlasting concern for our missing men. The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty. The single red rose, reminds us of the life of each of the missing and of the loved ones and friends who still search for answers. The vase is tied with a red ribbon symbolizing our continued determination to account for our missing. A slice of lemon reminds us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in foreign lands. The salt symbolizes the tears wept by the missing and their loved ones. The glass is inverted, symbolizing the inability of the missing to participate in today’s ceremony. The chair is empty because its occupant is missing.

POW/MIA Recognition Day was officially acknowledged in 1998, but the iconic National League of Families POW/MIA Flag was created years prior.

In 1972, a black and white flag featuring a silhouette of a prisoner of war standing before a guard tower and a barbed wire fence was adopted as the league’s flag. “POW/MIA” is printed on the flag above the silhouette’s head. “You Are Not Forgotten” appears just below.

As so many families have been left in shambles by loved ones being taken captive or stated missing, it comes as little surprise the flag was born out of an individual’s determination to find closure.

In 1970, Mary Helen Hoff’s husband, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hoff, took off in a plane and failed to reach its destination. Though the crashed aircraft was found in Laos, the mid-ranking officer’s body was not. The widowed Hoff soon became an active member in the National League of POW/MIA Families. After reading about Annin and Co., a New York flag manufacturer, in a Florida Times-Union article, she contacted the company about creating a flag for the league.

After Annin and Co. agreed to help, Hoff assisted with the flag’s design. She later told Jacksonville.com, “I said, ‘I don’t want a lot of colors.’ I had seen a picture of one of those POWs wearing black-and-white pajamas. And because of that, I said, ‘We need a stark, black-and-white flag.’”

Combat Veterans Association members show respect to the flag as 75th Air Base Wing Honor Guard members Staff Sergeants Monica Helling and Justin Kent, and Senior Airman Kyle Firestone prepare to raise a POW/MIA flag during a reveille ceremony held in front of the wing headquarters building at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Sept. 14, 2015. The reveille ceremony is the first event to be held on the base in observance of the National POW/MIA Memorial Week. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alex R. Lloyd)

The flag’s simple and stark design serves as a fervent reminder of those many Americans who were once held captive or missing. Like the flag, POW/MIA Recognition Day was created in hopes of honoring those soldiers and keeping their memory alive.

To the families and loved ones of our POW/MIAs, all of us here at Xtreme Concepts Inc. will never forget their tremendous sacrifice, and, no matter how much time has passed, we will never stop believing they will one day make it home. They will forever exist in our hearts and minds, and will stay in our thoughts and prayers.