Today, the third Friday of September, is National POW/MIA Recognition Day. On this day, we recognize those members of our Armed Forces who suffered special cruelties of war—being held captive by an enemy or the unknown fate of “missing in action.”
Over 130,000 American fighting men (and women!) were held captive in World War II, and over 73,000 were missing and never accounted for. In the Korean War, over 7,000 service members were imprisoned; 7,800 more were MIA. In Vietnam, 725 service members were imprisoned with 1,626 missing. In the wars since 1991, 37 service members were held captive at some time; 6 are missing.
Much of the pain behind these figures was suffered by their families. Many loved ones spent years in worry and uncertainty. The families of the missing have never received final closure.
In today’s military, the legacy and memory of American POWs and MIA is honored, respected, and kept alive by the men and women who continue to serve our country. When sergeants and petty officers are mentoring their junior enlisted, they talk about the strength of those who went through captivity and interrogation. They hold up former POWs as examples of honor and steadfast resolve in the face of physical and mental hardship. They want their troops to remember the legacy of those who went before, and especially those who paid the most for their loyalty to their nation and each other. At formal ceremonies of all kinds, and at military balls put on by individual units, time is set aside to remember those who went through privation and separation in their nation’s service.
Our military also continues to operate a special unit to find, repatriate and identify the remains of the missing. Years ago, when I was stationed at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, I often visited the Central Identification Laboratory of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, from which investigating teams were sent to Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia. Their work continues—the laboratory has recently completed identification of 62 U.S. soldiers from remains recovered from North Korea in 2018.
America does not forget those who served and fought for their country. Whether they returned healthy or injured, whether they were held prisoner or were killed, or whether they are still missing, we owe them a debt.
The care that we provide to Veterans every day is part of the continuing payment of that obligation. The respect and appreciation that you show to them demonstrates that we do not forget their sacrifice. I hope you will join me today in remembering the prisoners and missing in action whose sacrifice remains especially poignant.
Ms. Vivian Hutson, Chalmers P. Wylie VA Outpatient Care Center Director