The POW/MIA Flag Will Fly

A mindless piece against our honored POW/MIA flag recently appeared in Newsweek magazine. It cannot be understated that this opening salvo, against what for many remains as part of their daily anguish and unknowing, will not be so well received.

This is in reference to the piece by a Mr. Rick Perlstein, which lambasted a treasured symbol from an unresolved piece of American history.  There is part of me that hesitates giving this cheap shot artist any recognition, yet at the same time I am sick and tired of what was the media’s intentional false accounting of the war.  This standard was particularly visible from their “hatchet job” coverage of the Tet Offensive.   It is for this reason, together with supporting all the American families still so affected, that I feel compelled to respond.

Publishing Perlstein’s Vietnam fantasies may have been simply an irresistible ploy by a magazine with a shrinking circulation.  Especially so since South Carolina’s flag capitulation was so current with readers.  After all, if individual interpretations could carry the day over historical relevance in such a red State, why not a continuation of that anti-flag theme?

Emotion basically lapped over reality in South Carolina since the Confederate Battle Flag’s very identity cites a military rather than a racial purpose.  Still, our POW/MIA flag’s only message, in addition to lacking any racial threads, makes Perlstein’s leap a “bridge too far.”

His readers should question the overall intent of his article when he chose to ignore the unresolved status of the POW/MIA issue.  If it weren’t for Senator Kerry and McCain’s continuing defiance against admitting the available evidence during the 1991 Senate Select Committee hearings, this black flag may not have become so meaningful and prominent.

In general, his article carries on with the same caliber of misleading and false reporting that filled the airwaves back when.  However, even this attempt to ride the crest of the previous flag shenanigans realized, that it’s original title, “It’s Time to Haul Down Another Flag of Racist Hate” was slightly over the top and was thus reworked with the less offensive, “The Story Behind the POW/MIA Flag.”

Newsweek then explained the change with, “This piece was updated by the Spectator” (The Washington Spectator), “on August 13 to remove the word ‘racist’ from the headline and has been similarly adjusted here.”  Did this word “adjustment” explain why only the word “flag” made the cut?  That’s one heck of an adjustment!

POW-MIA flag. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

POW-MIA flag. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

It gets better though.  After digesting Newsweek’s mea culpa regarding possible racism, the reader returns to those same weeds when confronting the opening line of, “You know that racist flag?”  Then Perlstein elaborates with, “The one that supposedly honors history but actually spreads a pernicious myth?  And is useful only to venal right-wing politicians who wish to exploit hatred by calling it heritage?  It’s past time to pull it down.”

His chosen phrase, to “pull it down” rather than possibly just ‘lowering it,” is in keeping with his article’s venomous approach against the war, its veterans and our POW/MIA flag.

If one endures reading his piece, the gotcha from his opening flag spoof, “you thought I was referring to the Confederate flag” demonstrates just how ignorant the author actually is.  He considers it to be humorous!

From this article, how can the editor not gleam a splinter of hatred or at least a literary tirade from this writer?  I mean, not just a “myth” but a “pernicious” one?  Or how about adding onto that well worn vernacular of “right-wing” with “venal?”  His bias to a period of which he knows little about is also shown with his reoccurring phrase of “that damn flag.”  Given this slant, his words shower the reader with inaccurate, misleading and confusing stuff.

Then there’s this misinformed declaration, “Then the war ended, the POWs (yes all the POWs) were repatriated to great fanfare…”  His certainty of “all the POWs” returning completely blocks out the intense Senate investigations of which uncertainty still remains on the table.

He travels back to a long ago 1975 Congressional trip, one of the first such fact finding efforts while failing to mention the more recent and miraculous return of POW Robert Garwood.  And I might add, long after North Vietnam supposedly released all their American POWs.

His mentioning the “Peace Committee” is this article’s one shinning moment.  Many a reader had never heard of its existence since our media chose to ignore its shameful actions while at the same time setting out to ravage the above mentioned Marine PFC for lesser conduct.

After this one instance of credible information, he then returns to the depths of distortions as he grabs for more than enough journalistic rope to hang himself.  Referencing from his own book, The Invisible Bridge, he states that, “many of the prisoners were anti-war activists.”  He then names “one member of the ‘Peace Committee’ within the POW camps, Abel Larry Kavanaugh, was harassed into suicide after his return to the U.S by the likes of Admiral James Stockdale, who tried to get Peace Committee members hanged for treason.”

His term, “anti-war activists” refers to a few U.S. military POWs who were imprisoned at The Plantation and of course, the infamous Hanoi Hilton.  Also, what Perlstein omits is that these collaborators were nicknamed The Dirty Dozen by the POW general population.  Possibly, the word “dirty” came about because, and I’m quoting from Mrs. Monika Jensen Stevenson’s Spite House, page 267-268, “According to Colonel Guy, ‘many men were brutally beaten and tortured in the Plantation…because of the Peace Committee.’”

This may come as a shock to this befuddled POW/MIA authority, but Admiral Stockdale was certainly not responsible for Kavanaugh’s suicide, nor for pursuing any court martial charges.  Charges were written by the above cited Air Force Colonel Ted Guy, “who had intended to seek the death penalty for Peace Committee members…” (Spite House, p296)

I could continue with this literary decapitation, but one point needs airing and should reflect upon the entire mishandling of this POW/MIA debacle.

Again, from Mrs. Jensen-Stevenson’s Spite House, p269, the charges brought by Col. Guy were dismissed against the Peace Committee members with the following reasoning from Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird’s; “forgive any alleged offenses by POWs during their captivity.”  Why then, just a few years later, did Robert Garwood endure such a punitive court martial?  Now, there’s the real story!

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

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