A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

December 2001/January 2002

POW/MIA Committee Report

Fly The Flag

By Bruce Linnell, Chair

A few months ago, there was a debate in a state legislature about whether to fly the POW/MIA flag along with the American and state flags. I wrote my legislator a letter.

Dear Legislator,

God bless you for your patriotism and your love of the Red, White, and Blue. There is not a veteran alive who does not share your preference for our beloved flag. We put our lives on the line to insure that our country’s flag would continue to fly over your State House, and over the capitols of every state, territory, and possession of the greatest country on earth. We take much comfort from the fact that our sacrifices have not been in vain and are further comforted whenever we see the flag displayed with pride.

Then why do we care so much about the "ugly black flag" as you call it? It does not fill one with pride to look at it as does the Stars and Stripes. It does not evoke comfort. Well, it’s not supposed to, at least not in the way the American flag does. Its symbols are mixed between WWII and Vietnam. Surely no NVA or VC ever stood in a WWII prison camp guard tower. If this flag was simply a symbol of the Vietnam POWs, it would more properly have been rendered with the American in a bamboo monkey cage, stuck in the cul-de-sac of an underground tunnel system.

So what is it about this flag that causes so many to rise in its defense? For the very fact that it does not bring comfort. That it will not let us forget our husbands, our fathers, our sons, brothers, friends, and comrades in arms. Vietnam is the first war where we had

proof that the enemy held back Americans when the war ended. We have photos, published by the Vietnamese before the war ended, showing live prisoners. Prisoners who were never released and for whom there has yet to be an accounting. If it had been your father in that photo, could you ever look at the Red, White, and Blue in the same way as you did when you were growing up?

If it had not been for the families of our Vietnam POW/MIAs, do you suppose we would have ever learned about the POWs kept in the USSR after WWII, or those the North Koreans never released? You see, the POW/MIA flag is more than just a symbol of missing Americans. It is the symbol around which are unified the families of those whose loved ones have never returned, and who have never learned why. It does not matter from which war, conflict, police action, or peacekeeping mission the most important people in their lives never returned. It matters only that their hearts have a piece missing, and there has never been anything with which to salve the wound and begin healing.

So those of us who fly the flag--and those of us who respectfully ask others to fly the flag--do so to give the families of the missing a small measure of comfort. We do so to show unity with the families, and to let them know that we will not forget. We do so because we can do no less.

But the American flag embodies all of that and more, you say. And I agree with you, it does. It represents our country, its past, its present, and its future. Yet, to many in this country the flag is just a piece of cloth. When they see it, they don't "see" it. They don't feel it. They don't care if someone burns it, or grinds it into the dirt. They take their freedom for granted, and have no clue or much care for what it has taken to give them that which is so precious to us. That can be a wonderful thing. We pray that they will always be able to take their freedom for granted.

Those who were (and may still be) held behind the bamboo curtain do not take their freedom for granted, for they have no freedom. Their families cannot fully enjoy the freedom their sons and fathers bought for them. We, as vets, cannot fully enjoy freedom while the families of our brothers in arms are incomplete. So through that ugly flag we express our commitment to our buddies and their families, our support for the ongoing efforts to repatriate the missing, and our promise to the next generation of warriors that they will not be left behind or forgotten as part of the cost of freedom.

Would it hurt so much for your state to join the many other states in our great nation, and fly the flag of the families on the same lanyard as the state's standard. It costs little yet means so much to so many. Your state has borne its share of the cost of freedom. Please extend a measure of comfort and reassurance to those whose family members have paid and are paying the price of that freedom. Thank you.

 

News From JTF-FA

On November 29, the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting sent a seven-member limited joint excavation recovery team to Cambodia. The team hopes to find the remains of an American MIA. Excavation operations will be in the coastal province of Kompong Som.

Since 1973, the remains of 637 American service members, formerly listed as unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, have been identified and returned to their families. There are currently 1,948 Americans still unaccounted for from the war in Southeast Asia: 60 in Cambodia; 8 in China; 411 in Laos; and 1,469 in Vietnam.

 

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