Just in time for the observance of National POW/MIA Recognition Day on Friday, the flag that honors those service members is on display in the place where we honor our national heroes.
And that is due to the efforts of folks in New Hampshire.
Bob Jones is president of the Northeast POW/MIA Network, an organization dedicated to making sure the rest of us remember those held prisoner or missing in action. A Navy corpsman who served in Vietnam, Jones, 76, is the recipient of two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star.
When a fellow veteran noticed that the POW/MIA flag was not included in an indoor flag display at Arlington National Cemetery, Jones had what for him is a typical reaction: “Something has to be done about this.”
“How could that be overlooked?” Jones asked in a phone interview. “Here it is, our national cemetery where all of these thousands are laid to rest, many of them ex-POWs.”
Jones called the office of Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and asked for her help.
It didn’t take long for word to come back: The flag has been ordered.
The POW/MIA flag arrived Thursday and was promptly added to the flag display in the ANC administration building, where family members gather before military funerals.
“Arlington National Cemetery is honored to be the final resting place for many of our nation’s former Prisoners of War and a site to commemorate service members who are Missing in Action, as well as many Granite State veterans from the Civil War through today,” Arlington officials said in a statement. “The POW/MIA flag flies proudly outdoors on our cemetery grounds, and now also greets people in our Administration Building.”
The striking black-and-white flag features a silhouette of a person in front of a guarded watch tower, and this promise: “You are not forgotten.”
That’s the code he and other members of the Northeast POW/MIA Network live by, Jones said. The group has held a weekly POW/MIA vigil in Meredith’s Hesky Park for 35 years, and organizes an annual vigil and motorcycle ride to keep faith with the missing and former POWs.
In a statement, Hassan said she’s glad that the national cemetery acted quickly to fly the POW/MIA flag in its administration building. “Whether it be at the White House or State House, the POW/MIA flag pays tribute to the tremendous sacrifice of prisoners of war and those missing in action,” Hassan said.
The flag “is a powerful, stark reminder of the debts that we owe to our men and women in uniform and their families,” she said. “For veterans, military families, or civilians visiting these hallowed grounds, seeing the POW/MIA flag helps ensure that we remember the more than 81,000 service members who still remain missing and whose families search for full answers about their loved ones who never came home.”
It’s not the first time Jones and his fellow veterans have pushed for prominent display of the POW/MIA flag at important national sites.
A federal law passed in 2019, co-sponsored by all four members of New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation, requires that the flag be flown in designated locations, including the U.S. Capitol, the White House and national cemeteries.
But the following year, the POW/MIA flag was removed from atop the White House and placed in a new memorial garden on the grounds. The move prompted outrage from some veterans groups — including the Northeast POW/MIA Network.
Jones and others contacted Hassan, who, along with Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wrote to President Joe Biden in early 2021, asking him to return the flag to “its rightful place atop the White House.” The flag was returned there that spring.
When it comes to politics, Jones said he’s strictly independent, but he said none of this would have happened without Hassan’s help. “Veterans in New Hampshire and around the country are damn lucky to have a senator that will reach across that aisle we hear about, and has yet to fail us when we have gone to her,” he said.
Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, are also sponsors of the bipartisan Bring Our Heroes Home Act, which would require that all records related to the fate of missing Armed Forces personnel be sent to the National Archives. It also would establish a board to review and publicly disclose such records.
Rep. Chris Pappas, D-NH, sponsored an identical bill in the House. Introduced shortly before the pandemic hit, the bills are stalled in committees.
The Northeast POW-MIA Network also sponsors a remembrance table set up in the lobby of the VA Medical Center in Manchester. On the table is a Bible owned by the late Herman “Herk” Streitburger of Bedford, who was held captive in a German POW camp during World War II.