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 2020, National POW/MIA Recognition Day falls on September 18.
2020 marks the first time that Central Michigan University observes POW/MIA National Recognition Day. 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) have been planning this day of recognition since January 2019, and hence prior to the Covid-19 crisis. The crisis of course changed our original plans. What was originally planned as a single day of remembrance, has evolved into a multidimensional educational experience, delivered both via “analog” form (e.g., this brochure and the Missing Man table that sits nearby in Warriner Hall), as well as a series of podcasts and other digital events that help to bring to life this important issue of both individual, national and international ethics.