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Why we honor National Former POW Recognition Day

Jessica Evans Avatar
National Former POW Recognition Day
A former Prisoner of War attends a ceremony commemorating National Prisoner of War (POW) / Missing In Action (MIA) Recognition Day outside the Pentagon, Sept. 16, 2016. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)

On April 9 each year, the country pauses to remember former prisoners of war (POWs) – those held captive during a war. It also serves as a reminder of the inhumanity of war and the prisoners who suffer tremendously.

In 1984, a movement led by former POWs began seeking a day recognizing former Prisoners of War on April 9th each year. In 1988, Congress approved legislation and President Ronald Reagan proclaimed National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day on April 1, 1988, through Presidential Proclamation 5788. Going forward, Reagan designated April 9 as the official day to observe those who have returned home after captivity. In fact, many military communities use this day to reflect on their sacrifices. There are many ways to observe National Former POW Recognition Day.

Observe National Former POW Recognition Day

Share your story or the story of a loved one who was a former POW. Many organizations support former POWs, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and Disabled American Veterans. Of course it’s a great idea to find an organization in your community that helps former POWs and see how you can help support their work. Attend a local event or ceremony that honors former POWs at memorials or cemeteries.

National Former POW Recognition Day ceremony
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Gerald Coffee, a former Prisoner of War, provides remarks during a ceremony commemorating National Prisoner of War (POW) / Missing In Action (MIA) Recognition Day outside the Pentagon. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)

Meet some of America’s most famous prisoners of war

Each major conflict of American’s history features POWs. Some of these captives became quite famous. Unfortunately, so many more are lost to history. Here are the stories of four men who spent years as POWs and the unique places their ordeals took them.

Jeremiah Denton – Korean War

Jeremiah Denton was a U.S. Navy pilot shot down over North Vietnam in 1965. Denton was held as a POW for more than seven years. Brutal treatment and torture featured in every one of his days. In 1966, he became the first (former) POW interviewed on network television by CBS News reporter Mike Wallace. The interview was conducted in code. Denton blinked his eyes in Morse code to spell out the word “torture.” Later, he was later awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart.

National Former POW Recognition Day veteran
T.J. Martin, former Korean War prisoner, speaks with Airman Faris Djotni, 330th Combat Training Squadron, during a POW/MIA recognition event Sep. 19, 2019, at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Georgia. Martin was born in South Carolina in 1929 and was drafted into the Army in 1950 as a telephone and switchboard communicator. He spent 2 and a half years in Chinese and North Korean prison camps. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jamal D. Sutter)

Shoshana Johnson – Operation Iraqi Freedom

Former POW Shoshana Johnson is an Army veteran who served as a prisoner of war during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. She was part of a 507th Maintenance Company convoy that made a wrong turn into enemy territory and came under attack. Iraqi forces killed eleven soldiers. Then for 22 days, Johnson and six others were prisoners. U.S. troops eventually rescued her during a daring raid on an Iraqi prison camp. Johnson was awarded the Prisoner of War Medal and Purple Heart upon her return home. Read more about Shoshana here.

These are just a few examples of famous American prisoners of war throughout history. There are so many stories to uncover and tell.

Former POWs have sacrificed so much for our country. It goes without saying that on National Former POW Recognition Day, let us all take some time to remember their stories and sacrifice. There are many ways to get involved. Share stories about POWs. Educate others about this observance. Attend events in your community and virtually to show support. Whatever you do, take some time on April 9th to recognize the incredible sacrifice of these heroes.