POW-MIA flag 50-State Tour

Jim Ray, president of the POW-MIA Flag 50-State Tour, far right, spoke Saturday during the exchange of a flag being taken across the United States to raise awareness about the thousands of prisoners of war and missing in action who are still unaccounted for. The Iron Titans based out of Southwest Virginia passed the flag to the Mercer County Ghost Riders, who will keep the flag until the next stage of its journey. Ronnie Compton, president of the One Nation Under God Motorcycle Club, far left, and Don Sluss, president of the Iron Titans based in Southwest Virginia, held the flag.

PRINCETON — Vietnam veterans carried a flag by motorcycle Saturday as they raised awareness about the thousands of prisoners of war and missing in action service people who never came home.

Members of motorcycle clubs including the Christian Motorcycle Association, One Nation Under God, Brothers of the Wheel, and Sons of God rode to the Princeton Vietnam Veterans Memorial near the West Virginia Welcome Center to pass along a POW-MIA flag that is being transported to all 50 states. Heavy rain fell at times while the veterans arrived and prepared for the ceremony.

Jim Ray with the POW Flag 50-State Tour Group said bikers had just arrived Saturday from Richlands, Va. Last weekend, the flag was carried to Pennsylvania as part of the tour. It’s the second time such as flag was taken on an awareness tour across the United States. Ray estimated that the tour had covered about 4,000 miles as of Saturday.

The flag will even be taken to Hawaii and Alaska. During the 2017-2018 tour, the flag was near the North Pole while it was in Alaska. Ray said.

“The first time was in 2017,” he recalled. “It left from Grundy, Va. in 2017 and came back in 2018 to Grundy. This year it (the tour) started in Cedar Bluff, Va. and we just recently had it in Tennessee and North Carolina.”

When this year’s tour is completed in April 2020, the POW-MIA flag will be displayed in a case at Overlook Park in Cedar Bluff, Va., Ray said. Fundraising is not tour’s goal: instead, it is to raise awareness about the 82,000 POWs and MIAs that have been unaccounted for from World War I to the present day.

More than 1,500 veterans from Virginia are among the missing POWs and MIAs, Don Sluss, president of the Iron Titans based in Southwest Virginia, said. Many young people do not know about these missing veterans.

Sluss recalled one instance in North Carolina when a young waitress asked the veterans stopping at her restaurant what a “powmia” was about. She didn’t know what the letters POW and MIA stood for, he said.

The Iron Titans brought the POW-MIA flag to the Vietnam Memorial and formally passed it on to the Ghost Riders of West Virginia, who will later get it to the Christian Motorcycle Association for the next part of its journey.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com