Tribute to memorialize POWs, MIAs

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) unveiled a tribute to America’s POWs and MIAs in a hearing Thursday, showing an empty chair draped in an official flag that recognizes the more than 83,000 missing servicemen.

“This chair will serve as a physical symbol for the thousands of American POW-MIAs still unaccounted for from all wars and conflicts involving the United States of America,” Miller said.

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Charles Susino, the senior vice commander of the congressionally chartered nonprofit American Ex-Prisoners of War, said memorials like the one the Veterans’ Affairs Committee introduced should be more common.

“We should always think about those men that are not going to be here and those families who are not going to see them,” said Susino, a former World War II POW who was testifying before the committee on the needs of POW-MIA families. “You can’t put it into words.”

Miller said he saw other symbols like the chair displayed at POW and MIA conventions and veterans cemeteries and thought it a necessary addition to the hearing room.

“I felt that it was appropriate that, in the very committee where the voices of veterans are heard every day, that it should be posted as a reminder that we still have folks missing in action,” he said.

He said the flag-draped chair will sit in the front row of the hearing room but added that he hasn’t decided on 

its permanent spot.

“I’m still working on the decision whether to put it at the first chair when you come into the room, which is the most visible, or the center aisle of the front row, which, by protocol, would be the highest-ranking position,” he said.

Mike Dean, the House Upholstery Shop’s foreman, said he and his colleagues created a custom-tailored flag to fit over the seat like a slipcover to keep it from sliding off.

The National League of POW/MIA Families created the flag in 1970. It has a black-and-white silhouette of a prisoner and a watchtower flanked by the words, “You are not forgotten.” Congress officially recognized the flag on Aug. 10, 1990.

Congress has at least two POWs among its ranks. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spent five years as a POW during the Vietnam War, two of them in solitary confinement, and Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) spent seven years as a POW, also in the Vietnam War.

“This black-and-white flag is a powerful reminder that there are still many selfless Americans who faithfully served our country but have not returned home,” Johnson said in a statement to The Hill. “They gave us their all without demanding anything in return, and we must never give up hope of finding them.”