Focus is the POW-MIA program
By John A. Ballentine
The combined Stark County American Legion Auxiliary, comprised of units from Bradford, Toulon and Wyoming, held their annual dinner and program Wednesday, April 19 at The Highlands restaurant. There were 52 members and guests in attendance to hear featured speaker Sam Rice, of Toulon, discuss military personnel who are prisoners-of-war and missing-in-action.
Sam explained that he has recently been appointed to be on Illinois Senator Chuck Weaver’s Veterans’ Committee and he is the veterans’ representative for Stark County. The Committee reviews veterans’ laws within the State of Illinois and inputs suggestions, recommendations, and etcetera to legislators.
Sam served 14 months in Vietnam from June, 1969 until August, 1970 as an Army infantryman. He participated in missions that attempted to rescue prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. “We never rescued anyone, but we provided sightings of Americans who were imprisoned,” Sam said.
For the past 12 years, Sam has been involved with the POW-MIA program. He is Vice-Chairman of the State of Illinois POW-MIA committee. There are five area committees in the State. His area covers the Moline area to Spring Valley and down to Bloomington, Illinois.
Sam stated, “If a POW or MIA is found and identified, I talk with the family, as does a representative from the individual’s branch of military service. This has worked out really well and it is quite humbling to do this.”
Facts concerning POWs and MIAs
There are 73,118 people from World War II still missing, 7,783 Korean War U.S. servicemen missing, 1,611 from Vietnam, the Cold War there are 126, Iraq and others equal six. The total is 82,644 people still unaccounted for and Sam says, “Chances are most of them will never be recovered.”
In 2016, there were 135 people recovered and returned to the U.S. and 76 so far in 2017.
“Overseas cemeteries for U.S. veterans are some of the best well-kept cemeteries in the world! This is due to the gratitude that the native people have in those countries for U.S. servicemen,” Sam pointed out.
Sam explained about the POW-MIA flag, its history and symbolism. “There has to be on the official POW-MIA flag at the bottom the words, ‘You Are Not Forgotten.’ In 1971, Mrs. Michael Hoff, whose husband was missing in action, decided that a flag was needed for POWs and MIAs from Vietnam.
“A flag company designed it and a Mr. Newton Heisley was the designer, who was a former World War II pilot. The black and white design was chosen from the three designs presented. The silhouette of Mr. Heisley’s son was incorporated into the flag’s design because his son was back home from Vietnam and sick with hepatitis. His gaunt appearance from the illness reminded Heisley of how returning POWs looked. This is the only flag to have a person’s silhouette on it,” Sam described.
Sam continued, “On August 10, 1990 the 101st U.S. Congress passed the public law, which adopted the POW-MIA flag as a symbol for all of our POWs and MIAs from all of our wars.
“The flag cannot be copyrighted, it belongs to all U.S. citizens. As a result of this law, the POW-MIA flag is to be flown, if on the same pole, directly blow the U.S. flag. All other flags go below it, because it was adopted by Congress. This flag and the U.S. flag are the only two flags adopted by Congress. State flags are not. So, they go below the POW-MIA flag.”
The POW-MIA flag is the second largest selling flag behind the sales of the U.S. flag. It is the only flag besides the U.S. flag to fly over the U.S. Capitol and the only flag in the Capitol rotunda – not even the U.S. flag has been in the rotunda.
“In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed a law that the POW-MIA flag must be flown over the following buildings on six holidays,” Sam stated. “Those buildings are the Department of State, the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Selective Service System, major military installations and federal cemeteries – and the United States Postal Service.
“The six holidays are Armed Forces Day (the third Friday in May), Memorial Day (in May), Flag Day (June 14), Independence Day (July 4), National POW-MIA Day (third Friday in September) and November 11, Veterans’ Day.”
POW-MIA Table Service
Sam described the symbolic POW-MIA table service that is part of a “Remembrance Ceremony.” There is a small table set for one person, which symbolizes the POW-MIA’s are missing and the frailty of one serviceman against his oppressors. The table cloth is white symbolizing the purity of the servicemen’s intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.
A single red rose symbolizes the waiting families. The red ribbon on the flower vase represents the people who seek accountability for the missing. The lit candle symbolizes the servicemen’s spirit and the slice of lemon on a bread plate reminds us of their bitter fate. The salt on the bread plate symbolizes the falling of the families’ tears as they wait. The empty shows us that the POWs and MIAs are not here.
For more information concerning POWs and MIAs go to the websites: Department POW-MIA vacancy, or National League of Families.
The Dove Project in Virginia collects information from U.S. servicemen to help aid in identifying military personnel, particularly from Vietnam. Vietnam and the U.S. continue to cooperate in recovering those who are missing from the Vietnam War.