Personal tragedy leads to POW/MIA flag

September 18, 2019

The POW/MIA Flag was born out of one woman's determination to provide the nation with a way to remember its service members being held either as prisoners of war or those missing in action.

Lt. Cmdr. Michael's Hoff's plane crashed in Laos in 1970 and his body was never recovered. His widow, Mary Helen, became active in the National League of POW-MIA Families. In 1971, she saw an article in the Jacksonville, Florida Times-Union about Annin and Co., a New York flag manufacturer.

She reached out to the company and talked one of its executives into helping create a POW/MIA flag.

"I said, 'I don't want a lot of colors,' " Hoff told during an interview in 2009. "I had seen a picture of one of those POWs wearing black-and-white pajamas. And because of that, I said, 'We need a stark, black-and-white flag.' "

Using those parameters as guidance, graphic designer Newt Heisley sketched his son's silhouette in front of barbed wire and a watchtower with the words "You are not forgotten" to create the iconic flag.

POW/MIA flag

The League greenlighted the flag's design in 1972 but never copyrighted it. Although Hoff died in 2015, the image she was instrumental in creating has become synonymous with POW and service members missing in action.

In 1982, it became the only flag other than the American flag to fly over theWhite House. Congress recognized it as a "symbol of our Nation's concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia" in 1990.

The POW/MIA flag is also Congressionally-mandated to fly six days each year: Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day and Veterans Day. It must be displayed at the White House, Capitol, The Departments of State, Defense and Veterans Affairs, the headquarters of the Selective Service System, major military installations as recognized by the Defense Secretary, all federal cemeteries and all U.S. post offices.

In addition, the National Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans, and World War II Memorials are also required to display the POW/MIA flag daily.

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