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National POW/MIA Recognition Day

Vietnam War - POW-MIA Flag - You Are Not Forgotten

2003 National POW/MIA Recognition Day

Each year, the President issues a proclamation honoring and recognizing the sacrifices of Americas POWs and MIAs, both those returned and those still missing, and their families, designating the third Friday in September as National POW/MIA Recognition day. Mark future calendars now. On this day, a solemn event is held in Washington, DC, that includes military elements from all services, former POWs, MIA families and family organizations, veterans, military associations and veterans service organizations. Across the country, military units, veterans and family groups, civilian organizations and state and local governments observe the day in varied ways, to include POW/MIA flag raising ceremonies, retreat ceremonies, fun-runs, vigils, religious ceremonies, and breakfasts/luncheons/dinners, with invitations to MIA families and former POWs. The guidance following suggests many ways military units may choose to commemorate this day. Ceremonies and activities in support of National POW/MIA Recognition Day should honor all American former prisoners of war, service members and civilians still missing and unaccounted for from service during our nations past wars, and their families.

Sources for Additional Information

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) operates an official web site that may be accessed at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo . That site incorporates thousands of pages of updates, news releases, special reports and other information to keep readers apprised of the ongoing worldwide effort to account for Americans missing in action. Additional information specifically relating to this observance is posted on the DPMO web site for downloading by all readers.

Another site, though not a DoD site, offers the perspective of the largest and oldest (1970) organization representing families of MIAs. The National League of POW/MIA Families web site may be accessed at http://www.pow-miafamilies@org .

President Bush is expected to sign a proclamation commemorating September 19, 2003, as National POW/MIA Recognition Day. The proclamation will first appear on the official White House web site at www.whitehouse.gov . It will also be posted on the DPMO web site at www.dtic.mil/DPMO .


Public law (36 USC Sec. 902) requires that the POW/MIA flag be flown at installations and on specified days across the country. The first of the specified dates each year for flying the flag is Armed Forces Day followed by Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day, and Veterans Day. The flag is to be flown over the Capitol; the White House; the Korean War Veterans Memorial; the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; each national cemetery; each of the buildings containing the official offices of the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the Director of the Selective Service System. Also, the flag is to be flown over every major military installation, every VA medical center and every U.S. Post Office. In addition to the specified days, the flag is to be flown at VA medical facilities any day the U.S. flag is displayed. At Post Offices, it is to be flown on the last business day before a specified day, if the specified day falls on a national holiday when Post Offices are closed. The POW/MIA flag is symbolic of our nation's commitment to obtaining the fullest possible accounting for all Americans still missing and unaccounted for from all conflicts.

Military installations may procure the flag from GSA through supply channels: GSA stock number
2 x 3
3 x 5
4 x 6

Civilian organizations may purchase the flag through non-profit POW/MIA accounting organizations. Contact information is available from the National League of POW/MIA families at (703) 465-7432, or from flag manufacturers. Manufacturers are often listed in veterans and military association magazines.

POW/MIA Bracelets

POW/MIA bracelets are often worn as reminders of those MIAs who have not been returned or accounted for. They may be obtained from several sources, including the National League of POW/MIA families POC Ms. Liz Flick. Phone contact between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm central time weekdays or weekends is (614) 451-2405, or contact by email at [email protected] . Alternate source is Stemarco engraving at (915) 334-6900.


POW/MIA Recognition Day posters were distributed to all military services during June-July, as well as to family and veterans organizations. If your unit did not receive posters, update your requirements now for next year through your administrative distribution channels. The poster may also be downloaded from the DPMO web site, noted elsewhere in this message. Recommend it be downloaded into a graphics program for subsequent printing on a high quality printer. A limited number of posters is still available by contacting Mr. John A. Brown at DPMO, DSN 332-2102, ext 185; or by e-mail at john.brown @osd.mil .

Planning Local Events

DoD officials and commanders at all levels are encouraged to commemorate national POW/MIA Recognition day by implementing any or all of the following suggested actions:

- Include former POWs and POW/MIA families in religious ceremonies. Former POWs in local communities may be contacted through local chapters of veterans and family organizations. Additional information on contacting families of MIAs may be obtained from the casualty offices of each service, however, privacy will always be respected and family contact may be limited. Army: 1-800-892-2490; Navy: 1-800-443-9298; Air Force: 1-800-531-5501; Marine Corps: 1-800-847-1597; State Dept (for civilians MIA): (202) 647-6769. Additionally, the National League of POW/MIA families may be of assistance in contacting family members of those still MIA from the Vietnam War. The League may be reached at 703-465-7432 or by email at [email protected] .

- Conduct commemorative candlelight ceremonies on military installations. Guidelines on how to conduct this ceremony appear on the DPMO web site.

- Establish displays or memorials honoring POW/MIAS and their families.

- Print articles in general readership military publications and base newspapers on such topics as the experience of local citizens who were POWs, or a discussion of current government efforts related to National POW/MIA Recognition Day. Information on U.S. government accounting efforts may be found throughout the DPMO web site.

- Make installation facilities available for ceremonies and meetings by established military, veterans or recognized POW/MIA family organizations, within guidelines established by the individual military services.

- Make speakers available to discuss the POW/MIA issue for local schools, civic organizations, and other appropriate forums. See DPMO home page for speech material on POW/MIA issue

Delivering the Message About the Commitment to Account for POWs and MIAs

- Emphasize that POW/MIA accounting is a humanitarian matter, reflecting this nations commitment to its service members and their families.

- Address the question of live Americans held against their will by using the official U.S. government position stated in below.

- Avoid speculation on foreign government motivations or intentions regarding the POW/MIA issue.

- Emphasize the U.S. government is deeply committed to achieving the fullest possible accounting of Americans still missing and unaccounted for from past armed conflicts. Speeches by President Bush, The Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense confirm our national commitment. Visit www.whitehouse.gov and www.defenselink.mil and www.dtic.mil/dpmo to access speeches.

- Emphasize significant progress has been made in achieving the fullest possible accounting for Americans in Southeast Asia and in North Korea.

- Emphasize the importance of the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs working to resolve the fate of unaccounted-for Americans dating from as far back as World War II.

The following background on the governments worldwide accounting effort may be helpful in developing internal command or external public programs.

Southeast Asia (SEA)

Accounting for Americans still missing from the war in Southeast Asia is a matter of the highest national priority to which the United States government dedicates substantial resources. The Department of Defense has committed approx 600 personnel in Washington, DC, Hawaii, Russia, and Southeast Asia to account as fully as possible for Americans who did not return from the conflict. The Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA), as part of the United States Pacific Command, maintains detachments in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. With support from the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI), JTF-FA conducts field operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to pursue investigations, surveys, and recoveries relative to loss incidents. Intelligence support to the effort is provided by a Hawaii-based team of POW/MIA specialists from the Defense Intelligence Agency, Stony Beach. To date, despite extensive intelligence collection and in-country operational efforts, no evidence has yet been found indicating that any American servicemen are currently held against their will; however, information available precludes ruling out that possibility. Following Operation Homecoming in 1973, some civilians were detained by the communist regime, especially during the fall of Saigon in April 1975. These individuals were subsequently released, or their remains were returned in the cases of those who died while being detained. Nevertheless, every POW/MIA report received by the United States government, whether purporting a live sighting, an aircraft crash, the gravesite of an American, or identification information, is taken seriously and investigated. Updated statistics regarding a breakout by military service and by country of the 1,882 Americans still missing and unaccounted for from SEA may be viewed on the DPMO web site. The U.S. government continues to aggressively pursue POW/MIA issues with the governments of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China, and Russia in an effort to achieve the fullest possible accounting of Americans who did not return from the war in Southeast Asia. As our diplomatic relations with Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have improved, so has access to archival information and on-site investigations relative to unaccounted-for Americans. Although the pace at times can be agonizingly slow, and much remains to be done, especially unilateral efforts by foreign governments, we are keeping our promise to both the missing Americans who served their country so proudly, and their families who await answers.


In December 1975, the People's Republic of China returned the remains of two missing Americans who were lost over Chinese territory during the Vietnam War. Eight other Americans, also lost over Chinese territory during the Vietnam War are still unaccounted for. In January 1997, at the invitation of the Chinese government, the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office and the Central Identification laboratory, Hawaii, sent a team to the mountains of southern China to recover the remains of airmen from a World War II B-24 bomber crash. The team returned in the fall of 1997 and in subsequent years to complete the operation. A breakthrough on Cold War accounting occurred in 2002 when the PRC permitted the first ever survey of a CIA loss in northern China. A follow-up excavation is to occur soon. The U.S. government continues the pursuit of information from the Chinese government related to American POWs during the Korean War. Several high-level delegations, including visits by DASD Jerry D. Jennings have emphasized the priority of this issue with the U.S. government.


More than 8,100 American servicemen from the Korean War were never returned or accounted for following the signing of the 1953 armistice. After American graves registration teams searched South Korean battlefields, and the North Koreans returned several thousand remains in 1954 during Operation Glory, approximately 850 other remains were declared unknown. Of this number, one individual was interred in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery; the remainder were interred in Hawaii in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl. From 1954 to 1990 the U.S. sought, to no avail, to account for Americans missing in North Korea. Then, between 1990-1994, North Korea unilaterally excavated and returned to the U.S. more than 200 sets of remains. However, due to co-mingling of the remains and other factors, very few have been identified. The recovery techniques employed by North Korea clearly demonstrated that U.S. government technical expertise through joint operations is essential to potential identification of remains. Since July 1996, joint recovery operations have located more than 170 sets of remains believed to be American. 13 of those have been identified, with others in the final stages of the forensic ID process. Additionally, three U. S. archival research teams have visited Pyongyang and have returned with records relating to American POWs. This information is provided to family members if it is case specific. CILHI teams are in North Korea at this moment, conducting remains recovery operations in the Unsan County and Chosin Reservoir areas.

World War II

This war ended in a clear-cut victory; the U.S. had access to the battlefields so extensive searches could be conducted. Nevertheless, many U.S. personnel were lost and never recovered. Whenever possible, the government continues its effort to recover remains from WWII. Remains have been recovered from WWII crash and gravesites in Europe and the pacific, returned to Hawaii and identified by CILHI. Additionally, CILHI teams have conducted excavations in Panama, Okinawa, Makin Island, the Solomon Islands, Wake Island, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, China and other locations. More than 78,000 Americans are unaccounted for from WWII.

Policy and Field Operating Agencies

Missing Persons Act. Legislation of 1996 broadened the responsibilities of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs. It calls for DoD to exercise policy control and oversight of the entire process of investigation and recovery relating to missing persons, which includes search, rescue, escape and evasion. Such responsibilities are coordinated among the military departments, the joint staff, and commanders of combatant commands. The legislation seeks to establish uniform policies, including search and rescue, among all the services. It also calls for periodic review boards of cases, and prescribes that every unaccounted-for person in future conflicts shall have an attorney appointed to represent him or her in periodic review board proceedings.

Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO)

Under the DoD charter, the DPMO has policy oversight of the U.S. government mission in seeking the fullest possible accounting for Americans missing in action from all conflicts. It combines elements from the former DIA special office for POW/MIA Affairs, Task Force Russia, and the Central Documentation Office. DPMO is the focal point for POW/MIA policy, analysis, and declassification of POW/MIA related documents.

Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA)

JTF-FA was established in 1992 in response to public demand and presidential and congressional interest in obtaining increased cooperation from the governments of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to account for missing Americans. JTF-FA is charged with the mission of accounting for Americans still missing as a result of the Vietnam War. Supported by the Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI) and the Defense Intelligence Agencys POW/MIA team (Stony Beach), JTF-FA conducts technical negotiations, archival research, investigations related to loss incidents, surveys of loss locations, and facilitates and assists CILHI in excavations of grave site/crash sites. JTF-FA subsumed the Joint Casualty Resolution Center, which had conducted operations since 1973. The task force consists of civilian and military investigators, linguists and other specialists representing all four services. Headquartered at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, with detachments in Bangkok, Thailand; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Vientiane, Laos, JTF-FA is scheduled to merge with the Central Identification Laboratory, becoming the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) on October 1, 2003.

U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI)

CILHI conducts joint surveys, excavations, and technical-level meetings with the governments of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, North Korea, China and others. Remains recovered or returned are transported to the CILHI for forensic identification. Although an Army organization, CILHI is staffed by personnel from all military services. Since 1973, 701 Americans from Southeast Asia have been recovered, identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors. In addition to meeting requirements related to Americans missing from the Vietnam War, CILHI also conducts recovery operations for unaccounted-for Americans from WWII, the Korean War, and Cold War losses. CILHI capability in forensic identification work is enhanced by input from specialized laboratories. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) assists by providing highly sophisticated data from mitochondrial DNA sequences from skeletal remains and from family reference samples. The AFDIL and CILHI work was key to the 1998 identification of the Vietnam unknown in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Another laboratory which assists CILHI is the Air Forces Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory (LSEL), which analyzes aircraft wreckage and crew equipment to provide additional information in support of the accounting effort.

U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs

In December 1991, President Yeltsin and President George H.W. Bush agreed on formation of a bilateral commission to address POW/MIA matters resulting in the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, inaugurated in Moscow in March 1992. The U.S. delegation is led by retired Major General Roland Lajoie, with commissioners from the legislative and executive branches of government. The joint commission's objectives are to determine whether any American POW/MIAs were held in the former Soviet Union, and to obtain access to people, documents and archival information that could help resolve questions about unaccounted-for servicemen from the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Cold War and World War II. The commission holds its plenary meetings in Moscow and Washington and has fostered cooperation between The U.S. and Russia on this issue. Its work led to the return and identification of the remains of USAF Capt John Dunham, a B-29 crewmember who was shot down by the Soviets in 1952, as well as the remains of 17 other airmen shot down in 1958 over Soviet Armenia. Additionally, work by the commission, DPMO and CILHI led to the recovery and identification of seven U.S. Navy crewmen lost in WWII on the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia.

Related Subject Areas

Live sightings. Although evidence does not currently indicate that Americans are being held against their will, information available precludes ruling out that possibility. The government continues to aggressively pursue live sighting reports as the highest priority in our overall effort to achieve the fullest possible accounting. Since the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Defense Department has received more than 21,000 reports originating from Indochinese refugees; more than 1,900 of these have been determined to be firsthand live-sighting reports of people believed to be Americans. The balance are "dog tag" reports, wartime crash and gravesite information reports, or hearsay reports of living Americans. Most of the firsthand live-sighting reports have been resolved. Investigations and analysis determined that the majority related to POW returnees, missionaries, or civilians jailed for violations of Vietnamese laws; a smaller group relates to wartime sightings of men still officially unaccounted-for; about one fourth of the reports have been proven to be fabrications by the sources. In spite of the large volume of reports received and the considerable technical means at the disposal of the intelligence community, no single report or combination of reports and technical means has thus far offered conclusive evidence that any Americans are being held against their will. The U.S. government will continue to exert every effort, employ every means, and track down every lead until the fullest possible accounting has been obtained.

Discrepancy cases. Discrepancy cases are cases of Americans not accounted for where there is strong evidence they survived their incident of loss and were captured, or about whom a foreign government should have information. Through ongoing analysis and review, the number of individuals in Vietnam War cases settled over the years to 296. Continued investigations have obtained sufficient information to establish reasonable certainty that many of these individuals did not survive. Though we continue to investigate such cases, they are no longer considered last known alive discrepancy cases. Today there are 104 such individuals who are the focus of investigative efforts, archival research of records and in-depth interviews of witnesses believed to have information that could shed some light on the fate of these missing Americans. No case is considered resolved unless (1) the American returns alive; (2) remains are recovered, repatriated, and identified, or (3) we have convincing evidence why neither (1) nor (2) is possible.

Declassification of Documents. In May of 1992, the Department of Defense again initiated a major declassification effort for records pertaining to Americans still missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. Legislation requires the DoD to declassify all information relating to the location and treatment of Americans lost in Southeast Asia, and also to declassify casualty reports. It requires that the privacy rights of families be protected, as well as the legitimate security interests of the government. In July 1992, an executive order directed all executive departments and agencies to review all documents in their files and other materials pertaining to unaccounted-for Americans from Southeast Asia, to declassify them and make them available to the public. Only information that would reveal sensitive intelligence sources or methods, compromise continuing operations or negotiations, impair the deliberative process of the executive branch, or constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy was to be protected. More than one million pages have been declassified in this effort and turned over to the Library of Congress for public access unless restricted by the missing Americans next-of-kin.

Selected Statistics

Operation Desert Storm. During Operation Desert Storm hostilities, 47 American military personnel were listed as missing or "duty status, whereabouts unknown." 21 were captured and released after the cease-fire. The remaining 26 individuals were determined to have been killed in action; however, in 2001, the status of Navy Captain Michael Scott Speicher was changed to MIA, and in 2002 changed again to Missing-Captured. An active effort is ongoing in Iraq to account for Captain Speicher. The breakdown of the 47 military personnel listed as missing or "duty status, whereabouts unknown" is as follows:
Captured and released
Still missing

POW/MIAs from Recent Wars
Cold War
Returned to U.S.Control
Missing and Unaccounted-for

Overall statistics

(see more detail on database pages elsewhere on this site)

Missing in action and unaccounted-for Vietnam
Cold War
Korean War

Once missing in action, now accounted-for Vietnam
701 since the end of the war
Cold War
Korean War
13 from those we have recovered since 1996
more than 300 since 1978, when CILHI assumed ID mission for WWII losses

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National POW/MIA Recognition Day

To Honor Americas POW/MIAs: DPMO plans and coordinates a national ceremony to commemorate American POW/MIAs from all wars. The action officer works with the military department in charge of making this event a success (responsibility rotates between each service year to year).

Normally the president declares the third Friday in September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day. We anticipate local POW/MIA ceremonies across the country throughout Recognition Week leading up to National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

The first national commemoration held to honor America's POW/MIAs took place on July 18, 1979. That first year, congress passed resolutions to recognize POW/MIAs and held the national ceremony at the National Cathedral, Washington, DC. Congress continued to pass resolutions yearly to recognize POW/MIAs until 1995. Since 1995, the president has signed a proclamation designating National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

The 1999 National POW/MIA Recognition Day poster (thumb nail)
In 1979, the Veterans Administration published a poster consisting of the letters "POW/MIA" which they did yearly, virtually unchanged until 1982. In 1982, the Veterans Administration published a black and white poster depicting a POW in harsh captivity. Subsequent years saw a variety of designs. 1999's poster is depicted to the left. (Larger images of the 1999 poster:  788x1155, 205k )

In 1971, Mrs. Michael Hoff, an MIA wife and member of the National League of Families contacted Mr. Norman Rivkees, Vice President of Annin & Company with the goal of making a flag. Mr. Rivkees designed a flag for the National League of Families to represent the men missing from the Vietnam War. On August 10, 1990, the 101st Congress passed US Public Law 101-355, which recognized the League's POW/MIA Flag and designated it "as the symbol of our Nation's concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the Nation."

With the passage of Section 1082 of the 1998 Defense Authorization Act during the first term of the 105th Congress, the POW/MIA Flag will fly each year on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Say, Flag Day, Independence Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day and Veterans Day at major military installations as designated by the Secretary of the Defense, all Federal national cemeteries, the national Korean War Veterans Memorial, the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the White House, all United States post offices and at the official offices of the Secretaries of State, Defense and Veterans' Affairs, and Director of the Selective Service System.