Friday, September 15, 2017

POW/MIA Flag Joins US Flag Flying Over Main Street Roosevelt Island Thru Efforts Of Resident West Point Grad & RIOC - Today Is National POW/MIA Recognition Day

Have you noticed the black and white flag flying beneath the American Flag at the Roosevelt Island Blackwell Turnaround on Main Street and wondered what it was about?

The flag symbolizes the American Prisoners Of War and Missing In Action during the Vietnam War. According to the National League of POW/MIA Families:
In 1970, an MIA wife and member of the National League of POW/MIA Families recognized the need for a symbol of our POW/MIAs....

... Other than "Old Glory," the League’s POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever to fly over the White House, having been displayed in this place of honor on National POW/MIA Recognition Day since 1982. On March 9, 1989, a POW/MIA flag that had flown over White House on National POW/MIA Recognition Day in1988 was installed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda as a result of legislation passed overwhelmingly during the 100th Congress. In a demonstration of bipartisan Congressional support, the leadership of both Houses hosted the installation ceremony. On August 10, 1990, the 101st Congress passed U.S. Public Law 101-355, which recognized the League’s POW/MIA flag and designated it “as the symbol of our Nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the Nation”....

How did the POW/MIA Flag get raised on Roosevelt Island? It was on the initiative of Roosevelt Island resident Ross Wollen with the assistance of Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) President Susan Rosenthal and Director of Transportation Cy Opperman.

Mr. Wollen, a resident of Rivercross for almost 40 years, graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point NY in 1965. Over the years Mr. Wollen has hosted West Point Cadets and his Classmates on Roosevelt Island as they visit NYC for various events and reunions.

Among his frequent guests is Robert Jones, a West Point Classmate and good friend who joined the US Air Force as a Fighter Pilot upon graduation, and like almost all of the members of the 1965 Class spent time in the Viet Nam War several years after leaving the Academy. Mr. Jones was shot down over North Viet Nam close to his final mission, severely injured, captured and spent over five years in captivity, as a POW at various prison camps including the infamous Hanoi Hilton. There he was quartered, when not in solitary confinement or being privately tortured, with the Navy pilot, now Senator, John McCain.

Mr. Wollen wished to recognize and honor the service of his friend and West Point classmate, Robert Jones.
According to Mr. Wollen:
It was in connection with Bob Jones latest visit to Roosevelt Island that RIOC was kind enough to add the POW-MIA Flag to the Main Street Round-a-Bout, just under Old Glory, as it flies all over the Country.
Image Of Bob Jones At Roosevelt Island Flagpole

Mr. Wollen often tells of Classmate Bob's then deadly serious but now delightful story of his interrogation by North Vietnamese captors. Jones was required at gun point to name his unit's several commanders and realizing he would be tested over and over so could not just make up names he couldn't remember, Jones volunteered the NY Yankee line up with which he was very familiar as a young New Jersey fan and having pitched against the Yankees when they played against Army at West Point in a pre-season exhibition game. Jones was challenged days later and specifically asked by a North Vietnamese interrogator the spelling of Jones' Flight Commander. Jones spelled out his Flight Commander - Yogi Berra. Yogi loved it when told the story in the 1990's.

Here's Mr.Wollen, Mr Jones and their West Point Classmate, US Marine Reg Dryzga

 Image Of Ross Wollen, Bob Jones & Reg Dryzga From Left To Right

at the Roosevelt Island Flagpole

during a visit this summer.

The West Point Oral History Project has a fascinating interview with Mr. Jones

describing his experiences as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War and his internment as as a POW in North Vietnamese prison camps including the Hanoi Hilton.

Here's an excerpt from Bob Jones West Point Oral History describing being shot down:
...on the way down I'm  looking around, and I look out on the horizon, and I see this airplane. It's a MIG, and I see a plane through the MiG and he's turning in on me, and I'm looking and I said this guy's gonna come and shoot me right out of this parachute, and here he comes. And I don't know if it was the guy that shot us down or one of the other ones, but he's coming right at my parachute.

So I'm sitting there thinking, well, we carried side arms. I had a little 38 pistol, and I pull out my 38 pistol, and I'm  hanging in the parachute, and I'm like this. And I'm thinking if this SOB is gonna shoot me, I'm gonna get some shots off at least here. Well, this little peashooter I got is gonna go out about 50 feet and do this. This guy's got a 20- millimeter cannon in his airplane, so not much of a challenge here.

But I'm sitting here like this and I'm thinking, well, I got tracers in my gun because we put tracers in them because there's very few times that we thought that you're gonna have a gun battle out there with somebody, but you're gonna use this gun to signal. If you go in heavy trees or something, you can signal and the tracer will go through the trees and the rescue people can find you, so I knew I had tracers in this gun. I had five tracers in the gun, so I'm thinking, well, if I shoot first, he's  gonna see this so maybe he's not gonna shoot me. I don't know. So I stood there like this and I think I'm gonna let him fire first and I'm gonna unload this gun off, whatever. So he goes right over the top of me and he was just kind of thumbing his nose at me, or whatever, I don't know, but he went flying by....
I highly recommend reading the full transcript or watching the video interview

Today, the third Friday in September,
is National POW/MIA Recognition Day.