The POW/MIA Flag Still Flies High Despite Questions

Why does the POW/MIA flag fly atop the White House 40 years after Vietnam?

A POW-MIA flag flies over the White House, Sept. 16, 2011.
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Franklin believes that the flag continues to grow more prevalent because of the psychological response Americans have to Vietnam.

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"The Vietnam War is something that happened to us ... and we're somehow the victims of that," he says. "The POW is the ideal iconic figured that embodies of all that."

Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, who spent more than five years in captivity as a POW in North Vietnam, has rejected the notion of the POW as an iconic figure.

"I've received scores of letters from young people, and many of them sent me POW bracelets with my name on it. ... This outpouring on behalf of us who were prisoners of war is staggering, and a little embarrassing because basically we feel that we are just average American Navy, Marine and Air Force pilots who got shot down," he wrote in U.S. News in 1973 of his ordeal.

McCain's stance toward the POW/MIA issue hasn't always gone over well. During his first term in the Senate, McCain was disparaged by some POW/MIA activists because he believed there were no live prisoners in Southeast Asia.

"What are we doing with this flag? The war is over … we're not dealing with something that's subject to reason," says Franklin.

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But some have come to feel differently about the flag over time, including Swensson of De Anza College.

"It's such a different country now. Now we are taking care of veterans, honoring their service," Swennson says. "So the POW/MIA flag in an odd way serves to do that. I think now it does honor all veterans."

Hager agrees. The Florida-based veteran says that what the flag represents remains important, despite the decades that have passed since the end of the war.

"First it was a banner of outrage, that the government had left people behind. ... We unified around this thing, we rallied around that issue," he says. "The government will never leave troops in the field again, because they know we will find out, and then we will hold their feet to the fire."

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