[Written to tell children about the POW/MIA issue]

Imagine being a pilot shot down behind enemy lines during a war. You would be missing in action (MIA) if our government did not know where you were. If you were a soldier captured by the enemy, you would be a prisoner of war (POW).

In either case, you would want to know the United States was trying to get you home. When a war ends, the two sides usually exchange their POWs. It has always been impossible to account for all missing service members or find the bodies of everyone killed in a war.

There are 78,773 still missing from World War II, almost as many as the populations of Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming, added together. The 8177 from the Korean War who have not been found would fill the town of Cody, Wyoming.

Over 2200 from the Vietnam War are still missing. The Vietnam MIAs receive more attention than those from the previous wars, partly because there is concern that some of them may still be alive.

The United States became involved in Vietnam more than forty years ago, trying to help France hang on to its colony of Indochina. The French were defeated in 1954, and Indochina became the countries of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

The United States continued to help South Vietnam fight against North Vietnam. For several years, money and military advisors were provided. Then in 1964 our government started bombing North Vietnam, as well as sending soldiers to fight.

The war was very unpopular in the United States. It was an undeclared war because Congress did not say, “We declare war against North Vietnam.” It got bigger and bigger because our Presidents continued to send military forces and tell them to fight.

In 1973 a treaty was signed to end our part of the war. The treaty allowed the prisoners to come home, but did not try to find those who were missing.

Marine Corps Captain John Consolvo of Virginia Beach, Virginia, is still missing. A fighter pilot, he was shot down while leading a bombing mission over North Vietnam in 1972.

His mother Martha says, “I’d like to think that he’s still alive, but I don’t know. That’s what makes this so difficult.”The spot where his airplane crashed is known, but search teams have not yet gone there to investigate.

When Captain Consolvo’s daughter Jennifer was six years old, she was asked, “What is your daddy’s job?”

She replied, “My Daddy is a Marine fighter pilot. He went to Vietnam to help save the little children who didn’t have food to eat.” Then she paused, and added, “He’s lost and we can’t find him.”

Jennifer was in the first grade and her father had been missing for three years.

Another man lost during the Vietnam War was Navy Commander Michael Hoff of Orange Park, Florida. He was on a secret attack mission over Laos on January 7, 1970, when his plane was shot down. His wife Mary waited for almost twenty-three years to find out what happened to him. During that time she helped design the famous black and white POW/MIA flag.

In 1992 she was told the U. S. government had located the spot where her husband’s plane crashed. A man who lived in a nearby village said Commander Hoff had died right away because he was so badly injured in the crash.

Michael, Jr. was seven years old at the time. He wrote letters to government representatives to ask for assistance in locating the POWs: “Please do all you can do to bring all the Daddys Safe and Well from prison camp.”

He also wrote to his father: “Dear Daddy, Have you reached the village? Where did the plane crash? Did you get out of the plane all right?”

Mary Hoff now knows that her husband is dead and she is a widow. “There’s a lot of comfort in being able to say ‘I’m a widow,’ because the pain never leaves when you don’t know for sure….”

These are just two of the many families who were not able to bury their loved ones. We should not forget that so many never came home from the wars and no one knows what happened to them.

The President of the United States issues a proclamation–a written statement–each year to proclaim the third Friday in September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day. He does this to remind our nation of the debt we owe to those who gave their lives so we can live in freedom. He also renews the pledge to find out what happened to those still missing.

Most military bases hold ceremonies on the third Friday in September to honor the POWs who came home and the MIAs who did not. If you live close to a military base, you might be able to attend a ceremony. They are open to the public.

Even if you can’t get to one of the POW/MIA ceremonies, you can wear a bracelet with the name of an MIA engraved on it. You could also ask your parents to fly the black and white POW/MIA flag.

Most of all, you can remind others that these men who fought for our country but could not come home are gone BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.

© 1998 by Diane Diekman


  1. Terri Says:

    Hi Diane…

    I was very good friends with Jennifer Consolvo. I still, to this day, where her fathers MIA bracelet. I have had several of them. Any way, I think this is lovely.


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