18th September – National POW/MIA Recognition Day

 

In the United States, the third Friday of September is observed as National Prisoners of War/ Missing in Action Recognition Day. This commemoration was established in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, chiefly to honour the more than 1,700 U.S. servicemen--presumed POWs--who had been missing since the end of the Vietnam War. All subsequent Presidents have  issued similar proclamations, naming the third Friday of September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

The peculiarities of the Vietnam War conflict made the fate of U.S. POWs particularly hard. Prisoners were often mistreated, beaten, and tortured by their captors in order to break their spirit or to force them to take part in televised anti-American propaganda spots. Their ordeal was extremely long; for example, Col. Floyd Thompson was detained for nearly nine years by the North Vietnamese – the longest-held American prisoner of war in the history of U.S. armed forces.

When America withdrew from the Vietnam War, having signed the Paris Peace Accords, 593 U.S. prisoners were repatriated. However, the number of missing U.S. servicemen was significantly higher. Despite solemn declarations by authorities, many believe that the missing had in fact been captured alive and held in captivity even after the peace accords.  Hence on the third Friday of September we commemorate POWs and those missing, who have not returned to their families. The U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency continues the recovery mission to this day, accounting for missing personnel from conflicts from World War II to the present.

Daisies became the symbol of  POWs – since, the saying goes, ‘Daisies won’t tell’. When interrogated by their captors, POWs are not required to divulge anything save their name, rank, and service number. This requirement is hard in the face of ruthless captors, who balk at no cruelty to brake the POWs’ spirit and will.

In order to keep the memory of the POWs alive, the family of former Oflag 64 POW, Lt. Col. Joseph J. Zelazny, Jr. have revived the tradition of daisies, placing these flowers on or near the graves of all former POWs and encouraging others to do likewise. In the gallery you will find photographs that were taken on POW/MIA Recognition Day of the graves of former POWs, including several from Oflag 64. We sincerely hope this tradition will be upheld in the future, to honour the motto placed on the POW/MIA Flag and restate to surviving POWs, to the spirits of those who had passed away, and to those still missing and their families: ‘You are not forgotten.’