National POW/MIA Day always falls on the third Friday of September and is meant to commemorate troops who were taken as prisoners of war or who went missing in action in past wars. While national POW/MIA Day isn’t as widely acknowledged as holidays such as Memorial Day or Veterans Day, Ralph Esposito, director of the Nassau County Veteran’s Services Agency in East Meadow, believes it should be.
“I think it’s a very important day,” Esposito said. “We still have veterans who are unaccounted for. We want more than anything to have them back. The veterans in this county, and especially the missing ones, are very close to our hearts.”
While more attention is usually given to the number of casualties of war, the number of missing soldiers is startling. The United States Department of Defense’s POW/MIA office lists 1,741 American troops from the Vietnam War as missing and unaccounted for, as of 2009. Of that total, roughly 90 percent were lost in areas that were under Vietnamese control. Only 841 missing American troops have been found since the Vietnam War concluded in 1975.
Though national POW/MIA Day has been in existence since 1979, it is an observance rather than a national holiday. Esposito, himself a Vietnam veteran, wants that to change.
“To me, it absolutely should be a national holiday,” Esposito said. “We have holidays for Columbus Day, Presidents Day and Veterans Day, and we ought to honor the POWs and MIAs who put their lives on the line.”
National holiday or not, there will certainly be evidence of support for our Troops on Sept. 16. Several government buildings will fly the POW/MIA flag, which is notable for its black and white design featuring a silhouette of a man surrounded by barbed wire. It will fly below the American flag and can also be seen on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. Most appropriate are the words printed at the bottom of the flag: “You are not forgotten.”
While getting adjusted to the end of the summer and the start of the new school year, be sure to take a moment to remember our veterans, particularly those who went missing while serving our country.