PRISONER OF WAR (POW)

The Prisoner of War Medal was signed into law by Ronald Reagan just prior to Veterans Day in 1985. It had traveled a rocky road: The medal was first considered in 1944 and was voted down in 1971, 1975, 1981, and 1983. Even in 1985, Congress passed its legislation over the Pentagon's objections. Its position was that any medal should be "an incentive to achieve some higher goal or perform some desired service" and the POW Medal didn't fulfill that specification.

Originally to be considered for the POW Medal, a service member must have been taken prisoner or held captive while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing Armed Force, or while serving a friendly force in action with which the U.S. is not a belligerent party. The criteria have been modified several times (most recently in 2013) as global warfare changes. Hostages taken by terrorists outside military engagements, for example, are eligible, while a service member who accidentally walks across a hostile border and is captured and imprisoned is not.

A person receiving the POW Medal must behave honorably in captivity, and it may be awarded posthumously. For second or subsequent awards, service stars are hung from the medal's suspension and service ribbon.

Designed by Jay C. Morris of the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry, the Prisoner of War Medal is a 1 3/8th-inch bronze round featuring a eagle with outstretched wings encircled by barbed wire and bayonet spikes. The recipient's name is engraved on the back above the U.S. Coat of Arms and below an inscription reading "For Honorable Service While a Prisoner of War."

The medal hangs from a ribbon with an 1/16th-inch stripe of Old Glory Red, a 3/32th-inch white stripe, an 1/16th-inch stripe of Old Glory Blue, an 11/16th-inch black stripe, then a mirror image of the blue, white, and red stripes.

Notable recipients include: Pappy Boyington, Dieter Dengler, Shoshana Johnson, Jessica Lynch, John McCain, James Stockdale, Floyd James Thompson, author Kurt Vonnegut, and Louis Zamperini.
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