Friday, September 17, 2021

Today Is 2021 National POW/MIA Recognition Day - POW/MIA Flag Flies Below US Flag Over Main Street Roosevelt Island Thru Efforts Of Resident West Point Grad & RIOC

The third Friday in September has been designated by Congress as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

Have you noticed the black and white flag flying beneath the American Flag at the Roosevelt Island Blackwell Flagpole on Main Street

 and wondered what it was about?

According to the National League of POW*MIA Families: 

... The importance of the POW/MIA flag lies in its visibility as a constant reminder of America’s UNRETURNED VETERANS. Other than "Old Glory," our POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever to fly over the White House, first displayed in this place of honor by President Ronald Reagan on National POW/MIA Recognition Day, 1982. 

On March 9, 1989, an official League flag – flown over the White House on National POW/MIA Recognition Day 1988 – was installed in the US Capitol Rotunda after legislation passed overwhelmingly during the 100th Congress. In a demonstration of further bipartisan Congressional support, the leadership of both Houses hosted the installation ceremony, at which Ann Mills-Griffiths, then League Executive Director, now Chairman of the Board/CEO, delivered remarks representing the POW/MIA families. 

The League’s POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever displayed in the US Capitol Rotunda where it stands as a powerful symbol of America’s determination to account for US personnel still missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. On August 10, 1990, the 101st Congress passed bipartisan legislation and President George H.W. Bush signed PL 101-355, recognizing our POW/MIA flag and designating it “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 in 2017 with the assistance of former 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, former 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 in 2017:

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 past visit.

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

Also, watch this fascinating video from the West Point Oral History of Mr Wollen describing his 1964 student interview with President Dwight Eisenhower among other highlights.

President Joe Biden issued this proclamation on 2021 National POW/MIA Recognition Day:

When service members take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, they do so knowing that they may be called upon to make great sacrifices to ensure and sustain our shared values. These patriots accept those risks and rush to fulfill the mission, no matter how harsh or dangerous the conditions. They embody the best of the American spirit. For the families and friends who wait at home, anxious for news of their loved ones, these sacrifices can cause great pain. For the families of the more than 81,600 service members who remain missing in action — the pain and grief is compounded by a lack of closure, and the hope that their sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, parents, and grandparents will one day return home.

On National POW/MIA Recognition Day, we remember the debt we owe to them and to their families. We pay tribute to our former prisoners of war and recommit to the difficult but essential task of seeking out answers for the families of those still missing. We will always remember and honor our Nation’s prisoners of war and those still missing in action, and keep faith with our promise as a Nation to bring all of our heroes home.

Every day, the iconic black and white flag — a powerful symbol in recognition of the heroism and sacrifice of American POWs and MIAs — is flown above the White House. It is a mark of reverence and of solidarity with all those who await answers. Each day, this flag flies over memorials and cemeteries, on military installations, at local post offices, and on the front lawns of homes across the Nation. This flag remains a symbol of America’s commitment to honor the sacrifices of all those who serve. 

My Administration is committed to recovering and identifying Americans missing from prior conflicts. Our efforts are global, and we are thankful for the continued cooperation of all partner nations who advance these humanitarian efforts on behalf of American families. Loss and grief are hard enough without the added and too often prolonged pain of uncertainty. But this much is certain: the United States will never abandon the search for our service members missing and unaccounted for in overseas wars. They will never be forgotten.

During National POW/MIA Recognition Day, our Nation conveys eternal gratitude to those who endured enemy captivity and those who made the supreme sacrifice and have yet to return home. We will stand with these heroes, who gave their all to protect and preserve our freedoms, and their families, who have kept the faith and longingly pursued answers across these many decades.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 17, 2021, as National POW/MIA Recognition Day. Along with my fellow Americans, I salute our former POWs who overcame unspeakable indignities to return home with honor. For those who made the ultimate sacrifice and never came home, America will work tirelessly to provide their families and our Nation the fullest possible measure of accounting. I urge all Americans to observe this day of honor and remembrance with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke today at the Pentagon on POW/MIA Recognition Day.