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A key segment of the history of the Vietnam War is a story about families, and specifically the wives and mothers of servicemen who went missing in Southeast Asia. Demanding an accounting of their husbands, the wives were told to keep quiet. Instead, they organized into a formidable coalition called The National League of Families, which pressed the U.S. Government to comply with the moral and legal obligations found in the 3d Geneva Convention which pertains to the humane treatment of Prisoners of War. The familiar black and white POW/MIA flag has its origins in this movement, and in the persistent, non-violent agitation of the women who comprised the League. The empathy and fortitude that these women possessed are among the treasures that help in the building of a true democracy where all voices are heard. Their work reminds us of the duties of us all to remember, to hear, and to never forget the sacrifice of individuals and their families. We are indebted to these civilians for using their political voices to move our country to a more humane plane.

The first recognition by the U.S. Government for Prisoners of War and Missing in Action was established by President Nixon who proclaimed a “National Week of Concern for Americans who are Prisoners of War or Missing in Action” from March 26 through April 1, 1972. Subsequent Presidents recognized additional dates throughout the following decades, but in 1986 the third Friday in September was designated as National POW/MIA Recognition Day by President Reagan.

In 2021, National POW/MIA Recognition Day falls on September 17.

Central Michigan University first observed POW/MIA National Recognition Day in 2020. CMU’s Center for International Ethics (housed in the Department of Philosophy and Religion), the ROTC (Reserved Officers Training Corps) Program, and the VRC (Veterans’ Resource Center) worked together to produce a multidimensional educational experience. The POW/MIA flag was raised and lowered on October 1, the 1 year anniversary of when the DPAA publicly announced Pfc John Shelemba’s identification. The Missing Man table was set up in Warriner Hall. We also produced a number of podcasts with the DPAA as well as the Grubb and Shelemba families. In 2021 we continue these traditions. To learn more about this programming which helps to educate our community about important issues of individual, national and international ethics, visit our resources page here.

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