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Senators ask that POW/MIA flag fly again atop White House

STARS AND STRIPES

By SHAWNE WICKHAM | The New Hampshire Union Leader | Published: January 24, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — Sen. Maggie Hassan, D- NH, and two Senate colleagues are calling on President Joe Biden to return the POW/MIA flag to "its rightful place" atop the White House.

A 2019 law requires the flag, which honors American service members held prisoner or missing in action, be flown in designated locations, including the U.S. Capitol, the White House and national cemeteries.

During a Memorial Day event last year, the black flag was moved from atop the White House and placed in a new memorial garden on the White House grounds. The change was not announced, but the White House posted a 21-second YouTube video on June 18, showing uniformed service members raising the American and POW/MIA flags on a flagpole in a tree-lined grove under the heading: "Under President Trump, the POW/MIA flag flies 24/7 at the White House."

The move prompted outrage from some veterans groups, including the Northeast POW/MIA Network, which has held a weekly vigil in Meredith's Hesky Park for 34 years to honor and remember those held captive or missing in foreign wars. The group also sponsors an annual POW/MIA "freedom ride" to the lakeside park, where a memorial stone reads: "Let us not forget."

Bob Jones, a Vietnam veteran who is president of that organization, expressed gratitude to Hassan for her efforts to restore the flag to the White House.

"This is simply the right thing to do," he said.

Under the federal law, the POW/MIA flag is to fly on "all days on which the flag of the United States is displayed." And it must be displayed "in a manner designed to ensure visibility to the public."

Jones said he has never received an explanation for why the POW/MIA flag was moved last year. He said he hopes the new president reads the senators' letter "and replaces the POW/MIA flag atop the White House where the American people can actually see it."

Hassan was joined in her letter by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D- MA, and Tom Cotton, R- AR. All three were sponsors of the 2019 law.

Hassan had also signed onto a letter last September to then-President Donald Trump, urging him to restore the flag to the White House. Trump had signed the POW/MIA flag bill into law.

In their letter to Biden, the senators said this issue is critically important "to veterans and other Americans who care deeply about the POW/MIA flag as a sign that we will never forget about the thousands of American service members who are still far from home against their will." They noted there are approximately 82,000 Americans listed as prisoners of war, missing in action or otherwise unaccounted for in past wars and conflicts.

The senators said they support the creation of the permanent memorial on the White House grounds but said that location is not prominently visible from outside those grounds.

"We ask that you take swift action to restore the flag to its place of honor atop the White House, thereby prominently recognizing the service and sacrifices of American prisoners of war, missing services members, and their families," their letter concluded.

By law, the designated locations where the POW/MIA must fly are: the White House and Capitol; the Korean War, Vietnam Veterans and World War II memorials; national cemeteries, military installations, post offices and VA medical centers; as well as buildings housing the offices of the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Veterans Affairs and director of the Selective Service System.

New Hampshire also has a state law that mandates the POW/MIA flag be flown at the State House, all state facilities, national guard armories and other military installations whenever the U.S. flag is flown "until all questions concerning the fate of America's POWs and MIAs are sufficiently resolved."

While it's the veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam, who have kept the POW/MIA issue in the public eye, Jones said this is not only a veterans issue. "It's an American issue," he said.

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