The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia dedicated a “Freedom Tree” on May 6, 1973, with more than 500 people attending, honoring the prisoners of war, missing in action, and all who served in the cause of freedom in Southeast Asia.
The National League of Families was formed in 1969 to advocate for the captured and missing in Southeast Asia, with membership limited to families of POW/MIAs. It garnered world attention to the captured and missing men and sought for them more humane treatment, more complete and accurate identification, more frequent communication, better medical care, and all other benefits of the Geneva Conventions. Above all, it sought the earliest possible release of the prisoners and a full accounting of the missing. The dedication brochure states, “The joy of the Families at the Homecoming of many of their men is accompanied by the grim realization that their task cannot be complete until the more than 1,300 men still missing are accounted for.” (The organization is now known as the National League of POW/MIA Families.)
Voices in Vital America (VIVA) originated the idea for the Freedom Tree, and of the POW/MIA bracelets which were worn by millions of concerned citizens around the world.
The Freedom Tree was formally presented by Elizabeth Bedinger, the League’s national coordinator, whose son, Lt. Cmdr. Henry Bedinger, had recently been released by the North Vietnamese, and Helene Knapp, whose husband, Air Force Col. Herman L. Knapp, was reported missing after his aircraft was shot down in April 1967. (A May 2017 story in the Washington Times reported that the crash site had been excavated six times but no remains were ever found.)
Accepting the Freedom Tree was retired Army Gen. Harold K. Johnson, president of Freedoms Foundation. Gen. Johnson was a survivor of the Bataan Death March and three years of Japanese prison camps during World War II.
The dedication address was given by retired Navy Adm. John S. McCain Jr., whose son John, the future U.S. senator from Arizona and Republican presidential nominee, had recently been released from Hanoi.
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