PEPER COLUMN: POW/MIA heroes of Vietnam War will never be forgotten
How many of us really knew the attachment or sensitivities attached to the POW/MIA flag? The black-and-white flag showing the silhouette of the bust of a man near a watch tower, a guard on patrol and a strand of barbed wire are all powerful images.
The prisoner of war and missing in action acronyms are certainly self-explanatory, but maybe it's the four words at the bottom of the flag that command a Vietnam vet's attention the most: You Are Not Forgotten.
A recent landlord/tenant squabble where the flag temporarily was removed from the front of a popular watering hole crystallized the affection many vets still have for this flag and its message.
The flag was designed as a symbol of citizen concern for missing military personnel after the Vietnam War. Those held prisoner or those missing seemed even less important than those who made it home and we all know how less than welcome they were made to feel. Those were dark days. This flag seems to embody those same sentiments.
In 1990, Congress fully recognized this flag. It is still the only other flag besides the Stars and Stripes to ever fly over the White House. Do we dismiss the respect this flag deserves because it's often seen waving on the back of a motorcycle ridden by a guy with a ponytail and a leather vest? If so, then the problem's not them, it's us.
As more and more World War II vets die each day, it's the Vietnam vets who are left to tell their stories and ride in parades. A lot of those stories have never been told, primarily because nobody wanted to hear them.
At times, we seem to leap over these wounded warriors while lauding the greatest generation in order to get to the latest generation.
Flares and nightmares
At Patriots Point, the primary focus is the Naval museum and its place in defending this country's freedoms. There's another corner of the property, though, that often is only visited by schoolchildren and those who might take a wrong turn when leaving. It's a replica, Vietnam-era Army base camp. Sandbag bunkers dot the landscape with a Jeep and a green tent nearby. This camp would have most likely been in a jungle. On a dark night, flares would light up the sky to reveal any enemy encroachment near the perimeter wire. Motion detectors and night-vision scopes were not readily available. Computer technology had not made its way to this battlefield. This was guerrilla warfare and often those on patrol were hit by an attacker they barely saw. The one constant sound in the jungle was the monotone whirl of a helicopter arriving with more wounded.
Maybe it's easier to understand why those who fought in Vietnam still struggle with how they were treated. Fighting an unpopular war and then being viewed as the villain upon returning home is enough to confuse even the strongest mind. Prisoners come in all forms. Some are held by the enemy, others are consciously captive by scenes they cannot erase.
Maybe we all should look differently on this POW/MIA flag the next time we see it on display. It was designed as a symbol of concern and the focus deserves to be directed at those four words inscribed across the bottom: You Are Not Forgotten.
I'm just sayin'…