NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In every war the United States has ever fought, there have been people who have not come back and some who were never found. Those men and women inspired the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) symbol.
News 2’s Chris O’Brien explores the history of the symbol and the meaning to some closely associated to it.
Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hoff went missing in action during the Vietnam War. The last he was heard from he reported an enemy had shot him down as his plane fell.
“They did see the flash of light that they thought was the ejection seat leaving the plane, but there was no parachute that opened, and immediately after that visual the plane crashed,” said Suzanne Ogawa of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Ogawa barely remembers her father as she ultimately grew up in a one-parent household.
“Very outgoing, charismatic, had a zest for life. He never met a stranger,” said Ogawa, Michael’s daughter.
The news of her father’s disappearance angered her mother, Mary Hoff, according to Ogawa.
“She was mad. They were all pretty mad, at that point, because they were being told, ‘Don’t say anything, stay quiet.’ And they weren’t getting any answers out of our government,” said Ogawa.
Feeling the need for action, Mary took up the mantle. She reached out to a man named Norman Rivkees, who was the vice president of a flagmaking company at the time.
“They were very sympathetic to the POW/MIA issue,” she said.
After several conversations the POW/MIA flag was born.
While her mother didn’t design the flag, she certainly inspired it.
“The only contribution to what the flag looks like that my mother gave was the fact that they wanted to add color and make it colorful, and she said, ‘No, it needs to be black and white because of those POW/MIA uniforms that our soldiers are wearing,'” Ogawa said.
Retired Spc. John Otis Nichols served in the United States Army.
“We were always taught, especially in my generation, it was a thing that you did. If your country called upon you, you went,” he said.
He fought in the Vietnam War.
In that time, he made friends and also lost a few.
“I went to school with two of these guys. Michael Day and Gary Oliver. Played football with them, we were on the football team together,” he continued. “I knew Gary Oliver from very first grade on through. Graduated together. A good friend.”
Ogawa and Nichols have different stories, but they along with countless others are intertwined by the flag that represents sadness, heartbreak, and hope.
“It is a very powerful reminder that we still have missing that we need to bring home,” Ogawa said.
Nichols added, “It gives people the chance to remember them and be able to come up here and visit with them, and it’s just important. But it hurts them and it hurts us. It always has.”
Hundreds of Tennesseans remain listed as missing in action from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. News 2 looks at the efforts to keep their memories alive in the special report: Gone But Not Forgotten.