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Never forget: More than a black flag

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading
  • Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs
The flag is all black with the letters "POW" and "MIA" above a white disk located in its heart. It features the silhouette of a man's profile looking down, a watch tower with guard on patrol and a strand of barb-wire. But, it is more than a flag. It is a symbol of a nation's promise.

From the dead winters of Eastern Europe more than 70 years ago, through the sun-blistered deserts and endless jungles of Southeast Asia; more than 88,000 fallen service members, killed during combat, remain unaccounted for.

They were more than just Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers and Marines. They were young, in the prime of their lives and filled with dreams and aspirations. They were from every corner of America and may have even attended the same schools as you. They have families that still wait, patiently and heart broken, for them to come home.

Their families remain waiting for someone to bring them back. The broken families' wounds are never fully healed as they patiently count the years that pass without closure of what happened to their loved one.

Our missing-in-action service members represent more than the physical void they embody; their bodies also represent their sacrifice, honor and fulfilled commitment to defend the citizens of the United States of America. Although the dead cannot request proper burial rights, it is our pledge that warrants they receive one.

They deserve one. It is our moral obligation to bring them home, give their families closure and honor them for being the heroes they are. How do we honor service members that seem to vanish from the battlefield and do not leave a body to account for or information to identify them?

The answer is simple: it is our duty to never forget their service. By keeping our promise to them, we honor their sacrifice and fulfill their trust to bring them home. Just take a few moments from one of your days, to stop and to honor them.

Some say the scars of war may never heal, and nobody knows that more than veterans of foreign wars, especially, the ones taken prisoner by enemy combatants. When looking at the POW/MIA flag, it isn't just the missing we are honoring; but the ones that eventually did make it home after long periods of captivity.

They were American heroes that were taken as war prisoners.

I believe heroes are not defined by exceptional abilities, but the ability to act exceptionally at the right time. The way a hero acts in the face of peril defines their legacy as a warrior and sets them apart as a role model.

During the Vietnam War, some POWs were held deep in the dark jungles thousands of miles from home in tattered clothes and bare feet, on the verge of starvation with the fear of death looming around every unsanitary corner. Some were subjected to brutality, torture and interrogated for information. Yet, they remained resilient. They maintained their promise to their nation and didn't falter, and to me, that is heroic. That is worth keeping our promise to them.

Remember, the flag symbolizes our promise to the more than 88,000 Americans who still remain missing since World War II and our collective acknowledgement of the brave men and women taken prisoner during other armed conflicts.

It is our solemn pledge to tell their stories, give their families closure and to honor their sacrifice. In honor of all POWs and MIAs, many Americans across the nation will pause from their lives Sept. 21, 2012, in observance of POW/MIA Recognition Day. Although it is only one official day to honor our POWs/MIAs, it is also something we can do in our everyday lives. Honor them by living freely, and for service members, honor them by having pride in yourself, your uniform and your service.