National POW/MIA Recognition Day was established in 1979 through a proclamation signed by President Jimmy Carter. Since then, each subsequent president has issued an annual proclamation commemorating the third Friday in September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
A national-level ceremony is held on every National POW/MIA Recognition Day. Traditionally held at the Pentagon, it features members from each branch of military service and participation from high-ranking officials.
In addition to the national-level ceremony, observances of National POW/MIA Recognition Day are held across the country on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools and veterans' facilities.
No matter where they are held, these National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies share the common purpose of honoring those who were held captive and returned, as well as those who remain missing.
Since 1999, the POW/MIA Accounting community has created a poster commemorating National POW/MIA Recognition Day. The 2020 edition of the poster, continues to honor this tradition.
Staff Sergeant Jon Cavaiani received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam War. After his platoon came under intense attack and organized his unit’s defense. During evacuation by helicopter, Cavaiani voluntarily stayed on the ground to direct the large evacuation effort. In the morning, there was another enemy attack where he ordered and helped provide cover for the remaining small group of men to escape. He was then captured and spent the next two years as a prisoner of war until his release in 1973 during Operation Homecoming. He remained in the Army until 1990, completing over 5,000 jumps from all over the world.
Colonel Donald Cook posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. He was wounded and captured by the enemy in December 1964. He was held as a prisoner of war where he assumed the role as the senior prisoner, even though he wasn’t. He volunteered to give other men his medicine and unselfishly put the overall health and wellbeing of his other prisoners above his health. He died from malaria three years later.
George “Bud” Day received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. He was a prisoner of war, not once but twice. He was forced to eject from his aircraft where he was immediately captured, interrogated and tortured. Day eventually escaped into the jungle, surviving on berries and frogs. After swimming across a river, he wandered aimlessly for days, lost. He was ambushed, recaptured and suffered from gunshot wounds. Day was placed back in his original prisoner of war camp and several near Hanoi, where he was beaten, starved and tortured. He shared a cell with future senator and presidential candidate John McCain. After five years and seven months as a North Vietnamese prisoner of war, he was released on March 14, 1973. He is the only person to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Air Force Cross.
Sergeant William Port posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. He rescued a wounded soldier and then used his body to smother the blast of an enemy grenade, protecting his fellow soldiers. After surviving the blast, he was captured by the enemy. Ten months later he died while a prisoner of war.
Captain Lance Sijan posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. Sijan was forced to eject from his aircraft and evaded capture by enemy soldiers for more than six weeks. Seriously injured, suffering from shock and severe weight loss, Sijan was captured by enemy soldiers. He was able to overpower one of his guards and crawl into the jungle, however, he was recaptured after a few hours. He was then transferred to another prisoner of war camp where he was held in solitary confinement, tortured and interrogated. He never complained to any fellow prisoners or divulged any information to his captors. He died as a prisoner of war at ‘Hanoi Hilton’.
Commander James Stockdale received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. His plane was struck by enemy fire, forcing him to eject over North Vietnam where he was captured as a prisoner and beaten. He was held at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ for the next seven and a half years and was one of the main organizers for prisoner resistance and was known as one of the eleven members of the ‘Alcatraz Gang’ and placed in solitary confinement. Stockdale’s wife, Sybil, formed The League of American Families of POWs and MIAs, where she personally made demands known to acknowledge the mistreatment of POWs at the Paris Peace Talks.
Lieutenant Colonel Leo Thorsness received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. While on a suppression mission, Thorsness engaged in a heroic air mission involving destroying multiple enemy cluster bombs and engaging the enemy in a turning dogfight. Eleven days after his Medal of Honor actions, he was on his 93rd mission and was forced to eject from his aircraft. He was captured as a prisoner of war and spent over six years as a prisoner, spending time in solitary confinement and enduring severe torture. He was released during Operation Homecoming.
Captain Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace received the Medal of Honor for his actions while a prisoner of war in Vietnam. With less than two weeks left of his volunteered tour extension, Versace’s unit was ambushed, he was wounded and captured in the process. The enemy separated Versace from the other prisoners and the last time they heard his voice, he was loudly singing ‘God Bless America’. He was later executed, and his remains have never been found.