Colorado Springs for POWs - CSPM

Colorado Springs for POWs

On April 25, 1967, Helene Knapp was cleaning her kitchen when out her front window she saw her neighbor walking to the mailbox and then freeze in her tracks. Helene leaned to take a closer look, and saw a military vehicle at her curb. Moments later, she was informed that that her husband Colonel Herman Knapp’s F-4 Phantom jet went down over North Vietnam. Helene had been knitting a very special pair of socks to send to Herm, featuring a jet and its beautiful contrails. The gift was never completed – and life was never the same. Helene began advocacy work on behalf of Vietnam War POWs and MIAs locally, and then was named National Coordinator for the Washington D.C. based National League of Families in 1972.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

Before moving to Colorado Springs in 1969, John Herzog had significant experience in public relations and marketing for firms in San Francisco and New York City. In the Springs he went to work for Chuck Bowling, former Air Force Major and owner of startup company Casyndekan. Bowling was a neighbor of Helene Knapp, an MIA wife. After learning about the POW/MIA issue from Helene, Bowling wanted to support the work being done locally to advocate on behalf of the POWs/MIAs. He asked Herzog to assist the Colorado Springs for POWs organization and paid him to do so. Herzog’s expertise was much appreciated and resulted in a sophisticated advocacy campaign with compelling visuals.

As Herzog remembers, “This was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities… We wanted a letter writing campaign, and petitions signed. We ended up getting 150,000 letters; that was one for every two people living in Southern Colorado, including kids. We had schools where the classes would start writing letters. We had people standing outside grocery stores collecting signatures. We created posters so the public knew what was going on — it was a coordinated effort.” The matter was urgent and Herzog created persuasive literature that described the need for the public to act, and to do so quickly.

The marketing campaign was thoughtfully planned and far reaching. A poster designed for The National Week of Concern was paid for by the Association of Air Force Graduates and featured a heart-wrenching photograph of a POW. The posters were placed in stores windows throughout town. A series of billboards was unveiled, and advertisements appeared in local newspapers to coordinate with coverage on radio and television stations.

Recognizing the popularity of Colorado Springs to tourists year-round, Colorado Springs for POWs used it to their advantage. They produced POW/MIA awareness brochures and postcards that were handed out at local tourist attractions such as Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. Their marketing strategy was simple; they described the importance of the POW/MIA issue and asked visitors to get involved in a letter writing campaign or other advocacy work in their own communities.

In December 1970, John Herzog served as chairman of Colorado Springs’ six-member delegation to deliver letters to North Vietnamese officials in Paris, France, written by locals on behalf of the POWs/MIAs. And perhaps most notably, Herzog edited and published a collection of heartfelt children’s letters sent to Hanoi seeking release of American POWs titled, Daddy Won’t Be Home For a Long Time.

Submitted by Leah Davis Witherow, CSPM Curator of History

Collection Gallery

Additional Sources: