How Many Living Americans Are Suspected Of Being POWs?

I see the POW/MIA flag hanging… well, just about everywhere there’s an American flag. And while I appreciate the sentiment, from where I sit the number of actual, living Americans who are still held by the enemy as Prisoners of War is likely not more than a few dozen, if that.

Is my thinking correct on this?

**I tried to Google it, but the information about POWs was included with information about MIAs. And my belief is that the overwhelming majority of MIAs are simply long dead, their bodies having never been recovered, rather than still-living people who are held in enemy POW camps. But then again, what I don’t know about the military could fill several libraries.

The flags are to remember current POW/MIAs, and those we know or suspect are lost. These flags are now flown officially. It is well understood many of these people are no longer alive but it’s not nice to point that out around people who still have some hope, and those who’ve never know for sure when or if someone has passed away.

Yes, it now reflects a commitment to account for all those missing or ortherwise not accounted for, past and present.

That as of last November it has become by law a permanent component of the public flag display at certain federal governent locations is peculiar in that AFAIK no other official national policy had ever been thus represented.

In his book Inside Delta Force, former Delta Force commando Eric Haney states that the American POWs being held by Vietnam post-war (roughly 150, technically held in Laos, not Vietnam,) were most likely, in his estimation, quietly killed after it became clear that the U.S. government had no interest in paying ransom reparations for them or trying another rescue attempt to get them back. There had been two missions planned to retrieve the POWs but they were both compromised. The Vietnamese had previously extorted the French for such ransom reparations but the U.S. government, which faced an American public utterly sick of anything Vietnam by now, couldn’t pony up such money - the political cost would be too high.

Plus, any Vietnam POWs would be in their 70s or 80s by now, probably just dead of plain old age. And the Vietnamese would have zero reason to hold on to living American POWs indefinitely; no use. So there most certainly aren’t any American Vietnam-War POWs anymore.

I doubt that the Taliban, or any terrorist group that held an American soldier captive today, would not have publicized it by now (and the U.S. government/media itself would have publicized that too.)

There may indeed be American spies captured by some enemy entity right now but they wouldn’t fit the legal criteria of a POW.

There are still many MIA. There are currently about 1,600 of them. So, it’s a little more than a few dozen. While they are all presumed (or known) to be dead, their bodies are still missing. “You are not forgotten” is a promise made to all MIA and POW. Until they are all found and repatriated, the search efforts continue. The US government spends millions each year to locate, identify and repatriate their remains from overseas. In fact, today’s press release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the that SSG Blanton has been accounted for. He was killed in WWII at 19 years old. He and several other died assaulting a machinegun position, but their bodies could not be recovered due to the ongoing fighting. One of the men who died with him was found and accounted for a couple years ago and laid to rest with full military honors, 74 years after his death.

This is nitpicking, but unlike HeyHomie, I have never seen the POW/MIA flag flying anywhere, and I’ve seen the American flag flying a lot of places. I never heard of the POW/MIA flag until now. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a regional thing.

Almost certainly. And I live in Trump Country, where outward displays of patriotism are expected.

You can often see them on fire trucks. I’ve seen them all over the US.

The local Highway Patrol HQ flies one. Seems like a government building should stick to state/national flags to me.

With all respect to POWs and sensitivity to their families, I personally don’t like the flag being flown at public buildings.

And as pointed out, it really is just one more example of patriotic one-upmanship.

Without hijacking the thread, surely they call off such searches if the body is suspected or known to have been killed in a way that doesn’t…leave substantial or meaningful remains? :eek:

I can’t think of anywhere I’ve seen them flown “officially”, but I see them flown on private property all the time, whether on a wall, in a window, or on a pole… Plus, stickers, decals, commercials, media, and other artwork. They’re especially popular during Veterans Day and Memorial Day. You’ll even see things like this.
Have you really never heard or seen the POW*MIA logo before? Or is it just specifically the flag that you’ve never heard of?

If I’ve ever seen the logo, it was on so few occasions that I didn’t connect them. I’ve seen a lot of American flags flying, and I don’t recall seeing the POW/MIA flag near one of them. I’ve never heard anyone I know discussing POW/MIAs as a significant issue. Again, I think this is a regional issue.

I’m not sure where Wikipedia got this number. It’s way more than 1,600. According to DPAA At present, there are 81,900 Americans who remain missing since WWII. Almost half (41,000) of them are presumed to be lost at sea.

SSG Blanton’s remains were recovered fairly early- in 1947. He just wasn’t identified until very recently through advanced techniques.

Which brings up a point- there’s the pool of unknowns and the pool of MIA- some proportion of them overlap, like Blanton did.

Most of the unrecovered MIA are aircrew who were shot down over remote, rugged and/or enemy territory, without having a good idea where their plane went down.

The FAQs had this to say:

The Department of Defense is required by law to account for all personnel to the “fullest possible” extent. Those who were lost at sea or otherwise non-recoverable are not removed from the list of unaccounted-for. I don’t think “call off the search” is the best way to look at it. It’s not like there are teams going through forests looking for everyone at once. The DPAA deploys personnel to specific areas to excavate and look for specific people after tons of research produce an actionable lead. A lot of times, the remains are unearthed by locals who later contact the US, and a small team is flown out to check on the site and/or retrieve the remains.
So everyone on list could always potentially be searched for, provided new evidence or discoveries produce credible leads.
As in your example, if someone was blown to smithereens, leaving nothing recoverable behind, then they’re still going to stay on the list as unaccounted-for, but “non-recoverable”. Then, maybe 80 years later, a boy in some village finds half a skull and pieces of American GI equipment. MPAA will dispatch a team to investigate that.
Any bit of remains that allows for the identification of the remains is significant, and would be treated accordingly. Hopefully there is at least enough to cremate and inurn.

But the remains might already have been cremated and burned. Some casualties of war aren’t even going to have any fragments of bone left.

Seems pretty rare. Can you provide an example? It takes a body 2.5 hours at 1800 degrees to turn to ash. Jet fuel burns at 1500. I can’t imagine a scenario where an explosion or vehicle fire left no teeth or bones behind.

But, assuming that such a situation occurs and there are no remains left over that can identify the casualty, then it’s the same process as those who were lost at sea and eaten by sharks or something. They are “non-recoverable” but still “unaccounted-for”.

Maybe not destroyed, but so scattered they’ll never be found: A boat sinks in an area with a lot of scavenging wildlife. Between the scavengers and the decay in the warm water, anything identifiable becomes food for something and is unrecoverable. On a somewhat different tack, anyone who gets buried in an anonymous location is likely lost unless someone with a shovel picks the exact spot and digs, but I don’t know how often there are landslides in combat zones.

None of those scenarios involve the remains being cremated and burned. That’s the claim Chronos made and that I was responding to in the text you quoted.

I remember reading in a book about the Vietnam POW issue that there were a fair number of deserters during Vietnam who simply stayed inside the country after deserting and became officially MIAs, then when the North Vietnamese finally retook South Vietnam the new Vietnamese government threw them all into prison, thus become POW’s, but because they were deserters in the first place that’s why the US Government wasn’t too keen on getting them back, as we seen today with the whole Bergdahl issue. They eventually were all presumably shot since the new Vietnamese government felt like they weren’t worth the effort lest some new future American President decided to solve the issue with gunboat diplomacy.