I recently participated in an inspiring series of events at Vandenberg Air Force Base to commemorate National POW/MIA Recognition Day, first proclaimed by President Carter in 1979 – yes 1979! At that time, only four years after the end of the Vietnam War, most Americans didn’t know it existed. Many didn’t want to know. Many didn’t want to think about the Vietnam War let alone think about those still listed as POWs and MIAs.
That is except for their families, friends and comrades-in-arms as there are 1,602 Americans who remain missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.
Nearly 50 years later, we’re seeing a resurgence of interest, activity, support and effort, but it didn’t happen accidentally, according to Ann Mills-Griffiths, chairman of the board and CEO of the National League of POW/MIA Families. It was a long struggle by some who wouldn’t give up and were determined to get answers, a mission that President Reagan adopted when he came into office in 1981. Aided by several Vietnam veterans who understood much about their former enemies, priority for the POW/MIA mission was established, policies were adopted and implemented.
But overcoming wartime controversies and altering focus to accounting for our POW/MIAs was a struggle. Even today, controversy surrounds the Vietnam War as is increasingly evident from reactions on social media to the 18-hour, 10-episode Ken Burns’ documentary, The Vietnam War.