Until July 18, 1979, no commemoration was held to honor America’s POW/MIAs, those returned and those still missing and unaccounted for from our nation’s wars. That first year, resolutions were passed in the Congress and the national ceremony was held at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. The Missing Man formation was flown by the 1st Tactical Squadron, Langley AFB, Virginia. The Veterans Administration published a poster including only the letters “POW/MIA” and that format was continued until 1982, when a black and white drawing of a POW in harsh captivity was used to convey the urgency of situation and the priority that President Ronald Reagan assigned to achieving the fullest possible accounting for Americans still missing from the Vietnam War.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day legislation was introduced yearly, until 1995 when it was deemed by Congress that legislation designating special commemorative days would no longer be considered by Congress. The President now signs a proclamation each year. In the early years, the date was routinely set in close proximity to the League’s annual meetings. In the mid-1980’s, the American Ex-POWs decided that they wished to see the date established as April 9th, the date during World War II when the largest number of Americans were captured. As a result, legislation urged by the American Ex-POWs was passed covering two years, July 20, 1984 and April 9, 1985, as the commemoration dates.
The 1984 National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony was held at the White House, hosted by President Ronald Reagan. At that most impressive ceremony, the Reagan Administration balanced the focus to honor all returned POWs and renew national commitment to accounting as fully as possible for those still missing. Perhaps the most impressive Missing Man formation ever flown was that year, up the Ellipse and over the White House. Unfortunately, the 1985 ceremony was canceled due to inclement weather, a concern that had been expressed when the April 9th date was proposed.
Subsequently, in an effort to accommodate all returned POWs and all Americans still missing and unaccounted for from all wars, the National League of Families proposed the third Friday in September, a date not associated with any particular war and not in conjunction with any organization’s national convention. Most National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies have been held at the Pentagon. On September 19, 1986, however, the national ceremony was held on the steps on the U.S. Capitol facing the Mall, again concluding with a flight in Missing Man formation.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremonies are now held throughout the nation and around the world on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, at schools, churches, national veteran and civic organizations, police and fire departments, fire stations, etc. The League’s POW/MIA flag is flown, and the focus is to ensure that America remembers its responsibility to stand behind those who serve our nation and do everything possible to account for those who do not return.
National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia