By L. Cunningham, 55th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 18, 2019
Team Offutt members run the parade grounds while holding the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flag, during the annual POW/MIA remembrance run Oct. 6, at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency website, there are 1587 Vietnam service members still unaccounted for. (U.S. Air Force photo by D.P. Heard)
Team Offutt members run the parade grounds while holding the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flag, during the annual POW/MIA remembrance run Oct. 6, at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. The run, sponsored by the Air Force Sergeants Association, began at 8 a.m. and a total of 180 runners completed 397 miles over the span of 24 hours. (U.S. Air Force photo by D.P. Heard)
From left to right, Airman 1st Class Leddie Calleja, Air Force Sergeants Association vice president, Master Sgt. Jared Norwood, 55th Security Forces Squadron NCOIC of Operations Elite Guard, and Tech. Sgt. Whitney Montoya, AFSA president pose in front of a Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flag after the annual 24-hour POW/MIA Remembrance run at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. Oct. 6 – 7. Norwood was one of 180 Team Offutt members to run during this event, and he committed to running a total of 81.37 miles in the 24-hour time span. (Courtesy photo)
The smell of aircraft fuel consumed the air and dark clouds filled the sky as he drove onto Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. During his routine morning route, he noticed something out of the ordinary. He thought he glanced the site of a flag, moving as if it were running the path around the parade field. Then he saw it. It was being held firmly in the hands of someone running a steady pace; keeping up with him was a formation of five others. The individual was proudly holding a POW/MIA flag.
The driver immediately turned his car off-route and slowed his vehicle just long enough to photograph the honorable run. The group ran in silence. The group ran steady. The group ran in remembrance of all the men and women, who still to this very day have not returned home.
As the clouds began to clear, he noticed the group nearing an Airman; she was waiting up ahead dressed in running gear. As the group came closer to her, she started running a slow pace, and the man smoothly transferred the flag into her hands. She continued the run, keeping a smooth steady pace as she rounded the track in front of the base chapel.
The event the driver had just witnessed was the annual POW/MIA Recognition Day run hosted by the Air Force Sergeants Association. The official day of recognition is the third Friday of September, but this year the run was pushed back due to weather. A total of 180 Team Offutt members ran continuously for 24 hours in remembrance of all those who are still unaccounted for. Members ran both with and without the flag, but they ran in remembrance.
One particular runner, Master Sgt. Jared Norwood, 55th Security Forces Squadron NCOIC Operations Elite Guard, ran 24 hours and completed 81 miles for this event.
The POW/MIA flag represents our nation’s commitment and concern to resolve, the fate of many Americans that were held as prisoners of war or have been classified as missing in action.
The flag was designed by Newt Heisley, a World War II veteran, in 1972. In the center of the primarily black flag is the emblem of the National League of POW/MIA Families, which features a white disk bearing a black silhouette representing a prisoner of war before a guarded watch tower, and a barbed wire fence. Above the disk are the white letters POW/MIA split by a white star, and below is a black and white wreath above the words, “YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN”.
In 1998, the 105th Congress specified the flag to be flown on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day and Veterans Day. It is the only flag that has ever been displayed in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, and the only flag, besides the United States flag, that has been flown over the White House.
“All prisoners of war, past and present, and all military members who are missing in action are our brothers and sisters,” said Tech. Sgt. Whitney Montoya, 55th Wing Legal office and AFSA president. “Everyone who came out, whether they did one mile, 12 miles, or 81 miles, they gave their time to show their respect and to continue to remember.”
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency website there are 72,652 Americans who remain unaccounted for from WWII, 7,608 from the Korean War, 1,587 from the Vietnam War, 126 from the Cold War, five from Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom and one from Operation El Dorado in Libya. This site allows viewers to see who has not been accounted for, and it allows you to search by military service, name, or individual states.
In Vietnam alone the Air Force has 492 Airmen who are unaccounted for, 177 of them are listed as “BB” for killed in action, or body not recovered. Five people are coded as “KK” for died in captivity, or remains not returned. 300 people are coded as “XX” for presumptive finding of death. The Army has 512 unaccounted soldiers, the Navy has 353 unaccounted sailors and the Marines have 202 unaccounted marines.
“Members across all uniformed military services have sacrificed and some have paid the ultimate price,” said Montoya. “We run to remember them, we run in honor of them, we run so that they will not be forgotten.”