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POW/MIA Day

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

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Captain Calvin Maxwell Remembered

October 10, 1969 – October 10, 2009

Capt. Calvin Maxwell, MIA

Capt. Calvin Maxwell, MIA

Today marks 40 years that Captain Calvin Maxwell went missing in Vietnam.  I was 21 when I ordered a POW/MIA bracelet to wear for a soldier who needed prayer for a safe return.  That was 37 years ago, and today I sit here wearing that same bracelet acknowledging what this day means and, offering a pray for his family who for the past 40 years have been denied closure or knowing with any certainty the final fate of their loved one.

Over the years when I have cleaned things out or given items away, I could never part with the bracelet.  I felt that if I threw it away, it would be like giving up hope that he did make it home or worse if there was no one to remember this soldier, he would be forgotten. I wear the bracelet randomly, but always on days that are acknowledgments of the freedoms we are afforded in this country and for those who pay the price by their sacrifice to defend us.

By stark contrast this time last week, I was in Miami attending my 40th HS reunion reconnecting with friends and classmates I have known for most of my life.  It was an amazing weekend full of laughter and reminiscing of our youth and the adventures of growing up in a much simpler time.

It struck me the difference between two 40th year events separated by only a weekend and how dramatically different they are from one another.

In honor of my soldier who in fact did not make it home – you have not been forgotten for your name is etched into this bracelet and for all the years I have hoped and prayed for you, it has been etched into my heart.

Name:

Calvin Walter Maxwell

Rank/Branch:

Major/US Army

Unit: Headquarters and Headquarters Battery
6th Battalion, 14th Artillery
52nd Artillery Group,
1st Field Force Vietnam Artillery

DOB: 06 November 1943 (Atlantic City, NJ)

Eddy, NM

10 October 1969

South Vietnam

Missing in Action

2

O1G “Bird Dog”

Franklin L. Weisner (missing)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The Cessna O1 Bird Dog was primarily used by the Army as a liaison and observation aircraft. It brought not only an aerial method of locating targets, but the rudiments of a system of strike coordination between different types of aircraft used in the air war as well as with the different branches of the service who were operating in the same area. The Bird Dog was also used very successfully as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) since it could fly low and slow carrying marker rounds of ammunition to identify enemy positions for the attack aircraft.

On 10 October 1969, 1st Lt. Franklin L. Weisner, pilot assigned to the 219th Aviation Company, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade; and then Capt. Calvin W. Maxwell, observer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 6th Battalion, 14th Artillery; comprised the crew of an O1G Bird Dog (serial #51-11942). Their assignment was to fly as the “high aircraft” in a flight of two Bird Dogs on a high/low search mission. A high/low search involved a “low” aircraft moving slower and closer to the ground looking for targets while the “high” aircraft confirmed the location and identification of the target.

The low aircraft made radio contact with 1st Lt. Weisner as they were proceeding down a valley about 6 miles northeast of the city of Dak Pek and 30 miles north of Dak To, Kontum Province, South Vietnam. About 10 or 15 seconds after this radio contact with 1st Lt. Weisner, the crew of the low aircraft received a radio transmission in which they heard screams and moans. No further contact could be established with the crew of the high aircraft. Immediately a search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated.

On 13 October, search aircraft found the wreckage of the Bird Dog lying inverted in a fast-flowing river running through the hotly contested and extremely rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 4 miles south of a primary east/west road and 5 miles east of a primary north/south road that branched off of the first road northwest of the crashsite. Roughly 6 miles east of the crashsite, the east/west road made a 90-degree turn to the south. This location was also 12 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border and 33 miles northeast of the tri-border area where South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia joined.

Ground search teams were brought into the area by helicopter the next day and confirmed the tail number as being that of 1st Lt. Weisner’s and Capt. Maxwell’s aircraft. By examining the crash site, the search team established the aircraft hit a cliff above the river and slid into its present position. They also found barefoot tracks of four people in the area, but no bodies of the missing crew were located in or around the crashsite or downstream.

Military scuba divers were brought in to examine the wreckage for remains.

The team reported that both seat belts and shoulder harnesses were still hooked together in the cockpit, but no seat pads remained in the aircraft. One seat pad and an aviator’s helmet were located approximately 100 meters downstream of the crash. Further, two 30-caliber holes were found in the aircraft, but because of their location, neither one would have caused the aircraft to go down nor would the bullets have hit either crewman. For unknown reasons those individuals who visited the crash site before the Americans arrived carried an 8-inch thick tree to the site and left it there.

All searches were terminated on 18 October. At the time the military believed there was a reasonable chance both men could have been swept out of their seats and the aircraft by the swift current without unbuckling their straps, Franklin Weisner and Calvin Maxwell were listed Missing in Action.

If Franklin Weisner and Calvin Maxwell died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, they most certainly would have been captured and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is little question that the Vietnamese could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.

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