Servicemen upset and insulted by claims that POW-MIA flags are racist
"You know that racist flag? 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," Rick Perlstein wrote in an op-ed piece for the Washington Spectator before it was picked up by Newsweek.
No, Perlstein is not referring to the Confederate flag, which has attracted so much attention lately, but to the POW-MIA flag honoring missing American service members.
Since the article, veterans around the country, including those here in New York, have shared their disgust.
"I could not comprehend it in any way. It has nothing to do with racism and hatred," said Vietnam War Vet Jim Markson.
While Perlstein claims the POW Flag to be nothing more than political propaganda used to hide war crimes, Markson, who co-wrote "Vietnam and Beyond: Veteran Reflections", says the meaning is genuine.
"It represents to me, one of the highest military traditions and patriotism in this country — we can never forget the guys who got on a bus one day and never came home," said Markson.
The flag started flying in 1971 during the Vietnam War. Since then, vets of other wars say they've adopted the flag to honor their brothers and sisters in arms yet to come home.
"Those guys are the guys who are missing without their remains and that the families are so longing to get for the closure," said Joe Tiralongo. Tiralongo served in Desert Storm and Iraq, and was upset when he read the article.
"I think it's completely disgusting, because what happens is people fail to realize that the freedoms that they're enjoying, that they're being provided for, is being paid for with the blood of those POW's and MIA's," said Tiralongo.
Which is why the flag is flown at government buildings throughout the country until every member comes home. Markson says that may never happen, but on the rare occasion that it does, he can look to the flag and remember those still missing.
"They found a guy that was missing for 53 years and they wanted us to do a funeral ceremony for him. And we did. And that's what this is all about."
Here in New York City, there is a statute requiring the POW-MIA flag to be flown outside City Hall everyday until every service member is accounted for. To this day there are still more than 80,000 men and women who served in the armed forces missing since World War II.