Today there will be ceremonies held across the country in honor of our soldiers who are classified as POW or MIA.
Many are unaware of what is represented in the items that are used in this ritual of honor, and I think that every American should have a full understanding and appreciation for the history and symbols of this service, as well as the creation of the flag that represents our soldiers who are POW or MIA, and the Missing Man Formation.
This table is set for our prisoners of war and those missing in action from all wars. They are not with us today, and we need to remember the sacrifice…
The tablecloth is white to symbolizing the purity of the soldier’s intentions to respond to their country’s “Call to Arms” so that their children could remain free.
The single red rose in the vase, signifies the blood they many have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose also reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep the faith, while awaiting their return.
The yellow ribbon on the vase represents the yellow ribbons worn on the lapels of the thousands who demand with unyielding determination a proper accounting of our comrades who are not among us tonight.
A slice of lemon on is placed upon a bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate.
Salt is sprinkled on the plate to remind us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.
The lone white candle symbolizes the frailty of a prisoner alone, trying to stand up against his oppressors.
The candle is lit — Symbolizing the upward reach of their unconquerable spirit.
The black ribbon on the candle reminds us of those who will not be coming home.
A water glass is inverted on the table as they cannot toast with us tonight.
A lone chair is leaned against the table and remains empty as they are not here tonight.
A faded picture on the table is a reminder that they are missed, but remembered by their families.
This service is generally is performed as illustrated below:
Four members of the Honor Guard will bring out the wheel caps of the four military branches as they are recognized in the ceremony. Five caps and five members if the Coast Guard is included in the ceremony. All movements in this ceremony are slow and remorseful. The only sharp movement will be the facing movement at the end to leave the table after setting it.
Once at the table, the Honor Guard members will slowly bring the left hand up and over the wheel cap to have the fingers at “5 o’clock”. Once there, the cap is pivoted on the tips of the fingers of the right hand so the wheel cap is now facing toward the Honor Guard member. There will be a slow bend at the waist to place the cap on the table. Once there, the member will slowly straighten up and slow salute the cap still keeping their eyes caged on the cap.
If you ever have the opportunity to see one of these ceremonies, my hope is that you will have a better appreciation of each of the elements and what they represent.
The History of
The Vietnam War POW/MIA Flag
In 1971, Mrs. Mary Hoff, an MIA wife and member of the National League of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, recognized the need for a symbol of our POW/MIAs. Prompted by an article in the Jacksonville, Florida TIMES-UNION, Mrs. Hoff contacted Norman Rivkees, Vice-President of Annin & Company which had made a banner for the newest member of the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China, as a part of their policy to provide flags to all UN member nations. Mrs. Hoff found Mr. Rivkees very sympathetic to the POW/MIA issue, and he, along with Annin’s advertising agency, designed a flag to represent our missing men. Following League approval, the flags were manufactured for distribution.
The flag is black, bearing in the center, in black and white, the emblem of the League. The emblem is a white disk bearing in black silhouette the bust of a man, watch tower with a guard holding a rifle, and a strand of barbed wire; above the disk are the white letters POW and MIA framing a white 5-pointed star; below the disk is a black and white wreath above the white motto YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.
Concerned groups and individuals have altered the original POW/MIA Flag many times; the colors have been switched from black with white – to red, white and blue, -to white with black; the POW/MIA has at times been revised to MIA/POW. Such changes, however, are insignificant. The importance lies in the continued visibility of the symbol, a constant reminder of the plight of America’s POW/MIA’S.
On March 9,1989, a POW/MIA Flag, which flew over the White House on the 1988 National POW/MIA Recognition Day, was installed in the United States Capitol Rotunda as a result of legislation passed overwhelmingly during the 100th session of Congress. The leadership of both Houses hosted the installation ceremony in a demonstration of bipartisan congressional support. This POW/MIA Flag, the only flag displayed in the United States Capitol Rotunda, stands as a powerful symbol of our national commitment to our POW/MIAs until the fullest possible accounting for Americans still missing in Southeast Asia has been achieved.
YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN SO LONG AS THERE IS ONE LEFT IN WHOM YOUR MEMORY REMAINS.
Missing Man Formation
Looking heavenward you cannot help but shed a tear… mournful… lonesome… a hole that screams out almost as loudly as the roar of the engines that pass overhead.
This is The Missing Man Formation… perhaps the most magnificent and solemn aerial maneuver ever seen.
Whether flown with the wingman spiraling off into the great beyond, or, flown consistently with that awful hole where a buddy should be… this dignified, almost painful to watch maneuver is a part of POW-MIA and combat history.
The genesis of this maneuver is one shrouded in years of faded memories, long fought battles and countless missions almost a century old.
It is rumored to have begun when British fighter pilots flew over the funeral of Manfred ‘The Red Baron’ von Richthofen as a sign of respect by his fellow aces, the formation does find its birth in World War I. At some point during the Great War, the RAF pilots created an aerial maneuver known as ‘The Fly Past’… whether this was before or after the alleged von Richthofen loss is unknown. But it is
British in origin and it was used infrequently and privately during the War.
The ‘Fly Past’ remained a private affair… returning aircrews signaled to the ground their losses upon their return. The first written account of the maneuver shown publicly is by the RAF in 1935 when flying over a review by George V. Prior.
During World War II, it morphed and evolved into a ceremonial tradition as part of RAF programs. The US first began the tradition in 1938 during the funeral for MG Westover with over 50 aircraft and one blank file. The 8th Air Force with her legion of Flying Fortresses, the Bloody Hundredth and other combat weary groups adopted the maneuver when returning home from a ‘milk run.’ Again, it signaled to those on the ground the losses incurred during the last mission… and held a place of honor for their fallen comrades.
The Missing Man formation, as used in the United States, was rarely if ever seen by the public. Only those privileged to attend military funerals and ceremonies were familiar with it. But during the Second Indochina War, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the public at large got its first glimpse of this sobering moment.
The first time a military aerobatics unit ever performed the Missing Man Formation was during the war in 1969 when the USAF Thunderbirds flew the maneuver for the first time to honor the men and women who were then POWs in Vietnam. Other aerial demonstration squadrons, both military and civilian, have adopted the formation and perform it during ceremonial events such as National POW-MIA Recognition Day, Memorial Day, during funerals and at the internment of repatriated remains of Prisoners and Missing. Aside from the fixed wing maneuver, a rotary wing version is flown by National Guard and Reservists with exceptional beauty and solemnity.
Perhaps it is fitting that the true history of this exquisite yet sad tradition should be unknown… its history with those whom it honors and is named for… Missing.
*Information above provided by War-Veterans.org