Thanks to a flag, none are forgotten
Photo by Eric Ruth March 06, 2018
Emblem of POW-MIA cause makes a stop in Delaware
You could say it’s just a piece of cloth, woven simply from cotton strands and emblazoned with the silhouette of a man, his head bowed in silent, solemn thought.
“POW-MIA,” the words across the top of the cloth proclaim. “You are not forgotten.”
For the families of missing servicemen and women—and for a crowd gathered for ceremonies inside the University of Delaware’s Trabant University Center—those words turn this piece of cloth into an object of reverence and hope, a flag with the power to inspire and even heal.
That enduring sentiment and the flag that symbolizes it were brought to UD last week as part of a 50-state tour that seeks to sustain awareness of the approximately 83,000 people who served in captivity, or were never found at all, through America’s many wars.
“That’s over 83,000 families affected that still to this day don’t know what happened to their loved one,” said Brooks Raup, UD’s veteran services coordinator. “That’s over 83,000 dads, moms, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, etcetera, that are impacted by this number. One thing you learn in the military is you never leave anybody behind.”
As Raup and others gathered at Trabant on a rainy, wind-whipped Friday, the neatly-folded 3-by-5-foot flag sat nobly in its transparent display case, guarded by an unflinching veteran as UD community members signed the thick visitors’ book.
Ceremonial honors by the UD Air Force ROTC color guard gave way to stark remembrances, such as those of Ralph Galati, who spent 14 months as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese after his Air Force F-4 Phantom II was shot down in 1972.
“It was not heroic,” he told the crowd of his days in captivity. “It was our job and our duty to endure.”
Since the tour kicked off last September in Virginia, 30 states have welcomed the flag and its roaring escort of motorcycle-riding veterans, jackets adorned with symbols of allegiance to their brothers and sisters. Two of them, Jim and Pat Ray of Cedar Bluff, Virginia, launched the POW Flag 50-state Tour after Jim Ray had a dream where POWs sought someone to deliver them from their torture. “In the dream, we did it with our bikes,” said Jim, who served with the Army in Vietnam.
The nation’s consciousness of the MIA issue tends to fade with time, making efforts like the flag tour crucial for sustaining support, said Rosely Robinson, Delaware director of A Hero’s Welcome, a national group focused on ensuring happy homecoming for veterans. Yet most Americans really have no idea of how many remain missing.
“A lot of kids today don’t even know what a POW-MIA is,” Jim Ray said.
“Imagine yourself in a stadium with 83,000 people,” Robinson added. “Then, imagine closing your eyes, opening them again, only to discover that all 83,000 have vanished.”
For those in captivity, just knowing about stateside support can be enough to sustain hope, said Galati, who realized he had not been abandoned when he heard of the thousands of Americans who wore—and still wear—POW-MIA bracelets.
“It was the biggest news we could give them to sustain them for the remainder of the war,” he said. “I continue to be in awe that after all these years, the POW flag is still flown and still has meaning.”