Today, April 9, 2014, American President Barack Obama proclaimed National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, and asked “…all Americans to observe this day of remembrance by honoring all American prisoners of war, our service members, and our veterans.”
This day is fitting to remember the sacrifice of all who served in the Fil-Am forces on Bataan. When Bataan fell on April 9, 1942, it resulted in the largest single group of American troops ever surrendered to an enemy, some 12,000, along with 76,000 Filipino soldiers serving in the U.S. forces on Bataan.
Now as for the commemoration on this day, one might be forgiven if there is confusion between this day of commemoration, and the September observance of National POW/MIA Recognition Day. To help sort this out, here is some background which might help understand this matter. Or perhaps add to the confusion! Either way, it is important to honor those members of our armed forces who were formerly prisoners of the enemy, and to honor their service and sacrifice in adversity.
Efforts to formally recognize former POWs and those still Missing in Action (MIAs) on a national level began on July 18, 1979, when a ceremony was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
In July, 1984, a National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony was held at the White House, hosted by President Ronald Reagan.
Reflecting the tragic statistic of the number of captives on Bataan, former Prisoners of War (POWs) sought to have April 9 established as National Former POW Day. The next commemoration, scheduled for the desired date of April 9, 1985, was cancelled due to inclement weather, a concern that had been expressed with the proposed April 9 date.
On September 19, 1986, a National POW/MIA ceremony was held on the steps of the U.S. Capitol facing the National Mall.
Then, on March 28, 1988, the 100th Congress approved Public Law 100-269, which designated April 9, 1988, as National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day. In this, Congress authorized and requested the president to issue a proclamation to this effect.
On April 1, 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 5788 for National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day, 1988, to be observed on April 9. In it the emphasis on April 9 was clear: “…It is truly fitting that America observe April 9 in recognition of our former prisoners of war; that date is the 46th anniversary of the day in 1942 when U.S. forces holding out on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines were captured. Later, as prisoners of war, these gallant Americans were subjected to the infamous Bataan Death March and to other inhumane treatment that killed thousands of them before they could be liberated. In every conflict, brutality has invariably been meted out to American prisoners of war; on April 9 and every day, we must remember with solemn pride and gratitude that valor and tenacity have ever been our prisoners’ response.”
Advocates introduced legislation in Congress yearly seeking to designate National POW/MIA Recognition Day as a special commemorative day until 1995, when Congress opted to discontinue considering legislation. Since then, the President has signed an annual proclamation for this day, encouraging citizens to remember and honor the nation’s POWs and MIAs.
Congress did get around to formally establish the observation of National POW/MIA Recognition Day on the third Friday in September with the passage of Section 1082 of the 1998 Defense Authorization Act. It is one of six days that the POW/MIA Flag can be flown. (Note: The POW/MIA flag was first recognized by Public Law 101-355 in 1990.)
Every year now, National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies are held throughout the country and on military installations around the world, aboard ships at sea, in state capitols, at schools, churches, national veteran and civic organizations, police and fire departments, fire stations, etc., on the third Friday in September. This year’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day commemoration is on Friday, September 19, 2014.
As for today, proclaimed as National Former POW Recognition Day, we honor those men and women in uniform who suffered the indignity of captivity while in service of our country. And especially today, we remember the captives of Bataan among them. May we always have such brave men and women willing to serve and if needed, sacrifice their liberty, to protect our country and freedom.
American Ex-Prisoners of War http://www.axpow.org/default.htm
National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_POW/MIA_Recognition_Day
Presidential Proclamation 5788 — National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day, 1988, April 1, 1988 http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1988/040188b.htm
Presidential Proclamation — National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, 2014 http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/04/08/presidential-proclamation-national-former-prisoner-war-recognition-day-2
PUBLIC LAW 100-269—MAR 28, 1988 102 STAT. 43 http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-102/pdf/STATUTE-102-Pg43.pdf
Recognition Day – Background http://www.pow-miafamilies.org/events/recognition-day/recognition-day-background/